/raid1/www/Hosts/bankrupt/CAR_Public/010103.MBX              C L A S S   A C T I O N   R E P O R T E R

             Wednesday, January 3, 2001, Vol. 3, No. 2


AMERICAN CORRECTIVE: IA Suit Says Threats Used to Recover Bounced Checks
CABOT CORP: Faces Lawsuits in IL and PA over Beryllium Liability
CREDIT CARDS: More Firms Prefer Settlement under Wall Street Pressure
DIESEL-FUEL: Aussis Seek Compensation for Diesel Content Damaged Engines
ECONNECT: SEC Report Shows Summary of Securities Lawsuits

ECONNECT: Settles 2000 SEC Complaint over Misleading Press Releases
ECONNECT: Tells Investors of Late Filings Due to 1999 SEC Injunction
FLEET MORTGAGE: MN A.G. Called a Consumer Privacy Activist
GBI CAPITAL: TX Ct Grants Dismissal of Suit Re Underwriting of Mitcham
HMOs: Physician-Favored PacifiCare Reported to Crumble on Wall Street

MAJOR LEAGUE: Soccer Players Score Nought in Federal Antitrust Lawsuit
NATIONWIDE VL: Ohio Ct Refuses to Dismiss Deferred Annuity Products Suit
PA DEPT: Public Welfare Suit Settled with Wraparound Services in 60 Days
RAILS TO TRAILS: Panhandle Trail Land Owner Seeks Class Action Status
TOBACCO LITIGATION: Apartment Smoking May Be Banned Statewide in CA

* Feds May Release Bad Doctors List Reversing Secrecy Policy of 20 Years


AMERICAN CORRECTIVE: IA Suit Says Threats Used to Recover Bounced Checks
A southern Iowa woman alleges in a federal lawsuit that a California
company that recovers bounced checks has staged a shakedown of her and
hundreds of other Iowans. Lori Liles, of Eldon, is suing American
Corrective Counseling Services Inc., which is contracted by county
attorneys in Polk, Jefferson and Dubuque counties to collect bad checks
for businesses in those areas.

Liles alleges in the suit that the company demanded that she pay $177.08
in restitution and fees after she bounced a $42.08 check at a Fairfield
Wal-Mart last year. She also alleges the firm threatened criminal
prosecution when it didn't have the power to do so.

Liles' attorneys want to make their claim a class-action lawsuit and seek
damages and refunds for Iowa residents.

The firm is allowed to charge bad-check writers $125 each for an
eight-hour class on financial responsibility based on its agreement with
the county attorneys. American Corrective Counseling officials say the
classes are optional, but Liles' attorneys said that the company's
letters make it seem mandatory.

A sample letter from the company was included in the federal suit. It
said: "We are now processing this complaint for criminal prosecution. The
County Attorney will agree to forgo prosecution if you attend a special
educational class AND pay the total balance due WITHIN 30 DAYS FROM THE

Some county attorneys never evaluate the cases or file criminal charges,
New London attorney Steven Ort said. That means check-bouncers are
threatened with criminal prosecution under false authority and pretense,
which violates state and federal debt-collection laws, he said.

The check bouncers are told there's a criminal complaint on file coming
from the county attorney's office, but it isn't true, Ort said. "The
county attorney never sees anything," he said. Ort said it amounts to
"prosecution for profits." "This is not right - 125 bucks and no county
attorney even looked at this," he said.

Don Mealing, the company president, denies that prosecutors don't see the
complaints. Mealing said bounced checks reach his office after businesses
make repeated attempts to collect the money themselves, and all
complaints pass through the county attorney's office.

Everything the firm does is controlled by the prosecutor, but that
doesn't mean the attorney will prosecute every case , Mealing said. The
firm isn't a collection agency, Mealing said. He said that prosecutors
file criminal charges in 3 to 5 percent of half of the company's cases,
and that the firm recovers bounced checks in the other half.

The company acted on 1,448 complaints from Polk County merchants through
five months last year.

Fred Gay, a Polk County assistant county attorney, supported his office's
arrangement with the company early last year in the Fordham Urban Law
Journal. he couldn't be reached for comment.

Company attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Ronald Longstaff to
dismiss the lawsuit or rule in their favor before the case goes to trial.
(The Associated Press State & Local Wire, January 2, 2001)

CABOT CORP: Faces Lawsuits in IL and PA over Beryllium Liability
Several lawsuits have been filed in 2000 in connection with Cabot's
discontinued beryllium operations. Cabot entered the beryllium industry
through an acquisition in 1978. It ceased manufacturing beryllium
products at one of the acquired facilities in 1980, and another portion
of Cabot's former beryllium business was sold to NGK Metals, Inc. in

Two individuals who have resided for many years in the immediate vicinity
of Cabot's former beryllium facility located in Reading, Pennsylvania
have brought suit in United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania against Cabot and NGK for personal injury
allegedly caused by beryllium particle emissions produced at that
facility over the course of many decades.

There are also approximately ten other beryllium liability cases pending
against Cabot in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California.

                              Class Actions

In addition, other individuals who reside within a 6-mile zone
surrounding the Reading facility have filed a purported class action in
Pennsylvania state court seeking the creation of a trust fund to pay for
the medical monitoring of the surrounding resident population.

Another class action has been filed in Pennsylvania state court
purportedly on behalf of all former employees of Cabot and NGK in
Pennsylvania also seeking medical monitoring.

A third class action, also filed in the United States District Court for
the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, purports to assert claims on behalf
of a nationwide class of workers who have been employed by customers of
various beryllium manufacturers including Cabot. Plaintiffs in this
action seek the creation of a "medical surveillance and screening
program" for all class members.

Finally, other individuals who reside within a 6-mile zone surrounding
Cabot's former facility in Hazelton have filed a purported class action
in Pennsylvania state court seeking the creation of a trust fund to pay
for the medical monitoring of the surrounding resident population. The
Company believes it has valid defenses to these actions and will assert
them vigorously in the various venues in which claims have been asserted.
In addition, Cabot is indemnified by NGK in connection with many of these
matters. Moreover, recent federal legislation creating a federally funded
compensation scheme for beryllium workers injured or otherwise requiring
medical screening or testing may well affect certain of these pending
beryllium cases.

CREDIT CARDS: More Firms Prefer Settlement under Wall Street Pressure
With shakiness on Wall Street and stock prices and reputations on the
line, more credit card companies are settling class actions rather than
going through time-consuming and costly litigation, according to lawyers
and experts who follow the industry.

The two latest instances came to light recently: Providian Financial
Corp. of San Francisco said that it would pay $105 million to settle
accusations against its marketing and sales practices, and Bank One Corp.
proposed to pay nearly $40 million to settle complaints from customers of
its First USA unit.

In both situations -- as in cases that unfolded last year -- the
companies said they did not think they had done anything wrong but were
eager to get pesky litigation out of the way.

Industry observers said that the companies acted wisely, and that it made
for better customer relations to offer money to unhappy cardholders than
to press points in court about late fee policies and other matters.

Wall Street seemed to smile on the strategy. Providian's stock rose $4.5,
to close at $57.5. Bank One's stock fell $1.065, to $36.625.

Nancy R. Wilsker, an lawyer specializing in bank regulatory law at the
Boston law firm of Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer, said the banking
companies seemed to be trying for a "pragmatic solution" with the
settlements. "When a bank makes an offer like this, my experience is they
are trying to do the right thing both for their own business and, as they
see it, for their customers," she said.

In the past, when companies believed they had not done anything wrong,
they would fight such lawsuits, Ms. Wilsker said. "Today, they look at
the cost of the litigation, the duration of the litigation, and the
effect it will have on the market's view of the bank, and the likelihood
there will be an award against them even if they are right. When they
look at all those things, there's more impetus to settle now than ever

Since the companies' legal fees and possible payments to the plaintiff's
attorneys could wind up costing hundreds of millions of dollars, even if
the companies believe they are right, "it isn't worth the principle," Ms.
Wilsker said. "They say, 'Let's settle it and move on.' "

Leonard A. Bernstein, partner and the chairman of the consumer financial
services group for Newark, N.J., law firm of Reed Smith LLP, said the
lawsuits send a message to banking companies that customer service "must
be very responsive and flexible to avoid the huge difficulties" like a
lawsuit. "The class-action hammer can be very damaging."

Banking companies are now instructing customer service representatives to
cancel late fees on many occasions when cardholders call up and complain,
Mr. Bernstein said. This step is not "only for customer retention, but
that's where class actions are bred for disgruntled customers," he said.

Several class actions were filed last year against card companies. The
suit against Providian was by far the most costly.

In August, Citibank agreed to pay $45 million to settle a suit claiming
that credit card customers had been forced to pay extra interest and late
fees even when monthly payments had arrived on time. Citi did not admit
any blame, but said it settled to "avoid the expense of litigation."

The next month Chase Manhattan Corp. agreed to pay $22.2 million over
virtually the same matter.

Bank One's settlement proposal -- which was brought to public attention
by the Wall Street Journal last Thursday December 28 -- states that First
USA "denies any wrongdoing and will vigorously defend itself if the
settlement is not approved." The U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of Illinois will conduct a hearing Jan. 24 on the proposal.

Ed Mierzwinski, executive director of the U.S. Public Research Group,
called Bank One's proposal "paltry" compared with Providian's settlement.
"I hope this is only the tip of the iceberg, because from what I've seen,
their practices have been among the most unconscionable and anti-consumer
of any company in the business," he said.

The class action alleged that First USA assessed late fees to customers
who had paid on time.

The $105 million settlement was Providian's second hit of the year. In
June, the company agreed to pay $300 million to consumers to settle a
class action and an administrative enforcement action from the Office of
the Comptroller of the Currency. The lawsuit had contended that Providian
routinely added fee-based products that customers had not requested, such
as credit protection, to its credit cards, and charged consumers for
them. After that settlement, Providian launched a public relations
campaign aimed at cleaning up its image and improving customer
satisfaction. The remaining consumer suits against Providian were
consolidated into two class actions, which would be resolved through the
second settlement proposal. That sum is still subject to court approval.

The class action period for Providian suit dates from March 1995, to Dec.
14, 2000. Jonathan K. Levine, a lawyer with the New York firm of Kaplan
Kilsheimer & Fox LLP who represents the Providian plaintiffs, said he
could not say how many customers were involved -- perhaps millions -- and
the amounts they receive from the settlement would depend on how much
they had lost. "These suits are sending a message to the companies that
these deceptive business practices will not be tolerated," he said.

Alan Elias, a spokesman for Providian, took issue with the dates Mr.
Levine named, and said that Providian had changed its policies long
before Dec. 14. "If they're talking about something that occurred" two
weeks ago, "they're dead wrong," he said. "The business practices that
have been the subject of these lawsuits are literally and figuratively
about the past. They have nothing to do with the Providian of today or
the Providian of the future."

Providian reviewed all its solicitation materials and marketing practices
over the past 18 months "to ensure that we are being as clear and
forthright with all of our materials and disclosures," Mr. Elias said.
For example, the so-called Schumer box, which states the monthly interest
rate, is now printed in 18-point type, and the fine print "is not fine
anymore," he said. "It's big."

Joel J. Houck, senior analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., said the $405
million Providian would pay in the two settlements "looks like a lot of
money, but over the three-to-five year period is nothing." Since the
company's stock rebound on the day the second settlement was announced
indicates that the amount "wasn't as bad as people were thinking," he

The Bank One case is farther from being settled than Providian's, but
analysts said the vigorous efforts by Jamie Dimon, Bank One's new chief
executive officer, to execute a turnaround would likely mean that the
company will try hard to tie things up and move on.

"In context of Bank One's financial challenges in 2000, this isn't really
all that material," said David C. Stumpf, a bank analyst for A.G.
Edwards. The market is willing "to look at the positive side, the silver
lining of what the company is doing," he said. "Jamie Dimon and the
management team are viewed positively on the Street, even if they're
having a negative financial impact in the short run."

Mr. Houck said that 2000 was the year that consumer backlash came to a
head. "I don't know if there will be another round of scrutiny" this
year, he said. "The regulators have looked at these issues."

David Bartone, a Washington banking attorney, said, "I think all of the
companies are aware of the fact that consumers are more educated and
aware of manipulative practices. But it's not to say it's going to be
permanent. Things like this will happen again." (The American Banker,
January 2, 2001)

DIESEL-FUEL: Aussis Seek Compensation for Diesel Content Damaged Engines
Thousands of Queensland 4WD owners, contractors and farmers are expected
to seek compensation to repair damaged engines stemming from a recent
change in diesel-fuel content. The state's major motoring body the RACQ
has received hundreds of phonecalls in the past week from irate members,
while farming groups and individual companies were looking at their
compensation options.

The problem follows a move in July last year by BP Australia to refine
new low-sulphur diesel fuel at its Brisbane refinery. The introduction of
the new fuel coincided with shrinkage of synthetic rubber injector pump
seals and the leakage of diesel in motors built before 1995.

RACQ spokesman Gary Fites said there was substantial evidence pointing to
BP and the motoring body was seeking to contact the company and other
relevant industry groups over the situation. "BP has some questions to
answer," Mr Fites said. "We want those responsible for the supply of the
fuel which has caused the problems to compensate those people who've had
unnecessary expense imposed on them." Mr Fites said BP has given "verbal
assurances" that the diesel formulation has been changed to prevent an
occurrence of the problem.

A similar problem occured early last year in Western Australia following
BPs introduction of low sulphur diesel.

It is understood that the new refinery process was established to meet
federal Environment Protection Agency guidelines. However the new diesel
fuel had a lower aromatic level which harmed engine seals in
diesel-powered vehicles over five years old.

Contractors and other groups are understood to be considering class
actions against BP and the state and federal governments which were
behind the new regulations.

AgForce chief executive Michael O'Neill said his organisation was
gathering information on the situation. "We are looking at formulating a
proper response in respect to compensation," Mr O'Neill said. "The costs
to farmers can range from several hundred dollars and over $1,000
depending up the type of machinery they use." He said the peak farming
body was also speaking to New Zealand groups which were beleived to have
received compensation from BP following a similar situation. (AAP
Newsfeed, January 2, 2001)

ECONNECT: SEC Report Shows Summary of Securities Lawsuits
As previously reported in the CAR, securities lawsuits have been filed
against the company in 2000. The company’s report filed with the SEC
lists 31 such lawsuits filed from March to May 2000:

Einhorn, et al. v. eConnect, Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall, Dianne
Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00- 02674 MMM

Eckstein, et al. v. eConnect, Inc. , Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall,
Dianne Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00-02700 DDP

Bernstein, et al. v. eConnect, Inc., et al., Case No. 00-02703 FMC

Colangelo, et al. v. eConnect, Inc., et al., Case No. 00-02743 SVW (SHx);

Baron, et al. v. eConnect, Inc. , Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall, Dianne
Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00-02757 WJR (CTx);

Warstler, et al. v. eConnect, Inc. , Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall,
Dianne Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00-02758 R

Prager, et al. v. eConnect, Inc. , Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall, Dianne
Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00-02759 GHK (RCx);

Weisblum, et al. v. eConnect and Thomas S. Hughes, Case No. 00- 02770 MRP

Mazda, et al. v. eConnect, et al., Case No. 00-02776 LGB (Mcx);
Pirraglia, et al. v. eConnect, et al., Case No. 00-02875 SVW (CWx);

Hershkop and Hershkop, et al. v. eConnect and Thomas S. Hughes, Case No.
00-03095 MRP (RNRx);

Bacun, et al. v. eConnect, Inc. , Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall, Dianne
Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00-03161 FMC

Fine, et al. v. eConnect, Inc. and Thomas Hughes, Case No. 00- 03290 SVW

Smith, et al. v. eConnect, Thomas Hughes, Case No. 00-03301 DT (Mcx);
Reimer, et al. v. eConnect, Thomas Hughes, Case No. 00-03405 JSL;

Tepper, et al. v. eConnect and Thomas S. Hughes, Case No. 00- 03444 WJR

Bury, et al. v. eConnect, Thomas Hughes, Case No. 00-03446 ABC; Villari,
et al. v. eConnect, Thomas Hughes, Case No. 00-03447 LGB (SHx);

Ringel, et al. v. eConnect, Inc. , Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall, Dianne
Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00-03591 RSWL

Massaro, et al. v. eConnect, Inc., Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall, Dianne
Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00-03671 DDP

Gardner, et al. v. eConnect, Inc., Thomas S. Hughes, Jack M. Hall, Dianne
Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, Case No. 00-03897 MMM (RZx);

Schneyer, et al. v. eConnect, Case No. CV-00-03783 MMM (JWJx);

Ginocchi, et al. v. eConnect, Case No. 00-04003 MMM (JWJx); Matrisciani,
et al. v. eConnect, Case No. 00-04181 MMM (JWJx);

Dutton, et al. v. eConnect, Case No. 00-04505 LGB (Ex);

Shaw, et al. v. eConnect, Case No. 00-04637 LGB (Ex);

Gowrie, et al. v. eConnect, Case No. 00-04686 LGB (Ex);

Belcher, et al. v. eConnect, Case No.00-04792 LGB (Ex);

Lively, et al. v. eConnect, Case No. 00-03112 MMM (JWJx);

Levine, et al. v. eConnect, Case No. 00-03649 MMM (JWJx); and

Berkowitz, et al. v. eConnect, Case No. 00-04152 MMM (JWJx).

The foregoing thirty-one actions were filed on various dates between
March 14, 2000 and early May 2000, inclusive, and are all pending in the
United States District Court for the Central District of California.
These actions are brought by various putative classes of the purchasers
of the company's common stock. The putative classes alleged, none of
which have been certified, range from no earlier than November 18, 1999
through March 13, 2000. Plaintiffs in the various actions assert that the
company and Thomas S. Hughes, as well as (in certain of the actions) Jack
M. Hall, Diane Hewitt, Anthony L. Hall, and Kevin J. Lewis, have violated
Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act (false or misleading statements and
omissions which deceived stock purchasers) and also Section 20(a) of the
Exchange Act (liability as a "controlling person" with respect to a
primary violation of securities laws). The principal allegations concern
various alleged material misrepresentations and omissions which
supposedly made the company's public statements on and after November 18,
1999 (and/or on and after November 23, 1999) false and misleading,
thereby artificially inflating the market in and for the company's common

No class has yet been certified in connection with any of these actions.
All cases have been combined into one case before the Honorable Margaret
M. Morrow, entitled In Re eConnect, Inc. Securities Litigation, Master
File No. 00-02674 MMM (JWJx). Negotiations are underway regarding the
settlement of these actions.

Additionally, a shareholder of the company named John P. Maloney, filed
an individual action for "securities fraud and misrepresentation" against
the company and Mr. Hughes on May 12, 2000 in small claims court in
Torrance, California. The company subsequently removed the action to the
United States District Court for the Central District of California, and
requested that it be consolidated with In Re eConnect, Inc. Securities
Litigation. However, on September 11, 2000, the Honorable Margaret M.
Morrow ruled that Mr. Maloney's action should be remanded to the state
small claims court. Subsequently, Mr. Maloney's action was settled
amicably and dismissed.

                 Short-Swing Trading Complaint

On September 6, 2000, Richard Morales, a purported shareholder of the
company, filed an action in the United States District Court for the
Southern District of New York against the company and Mr. Hughes. This
action, Richard Morales v. eConnect and Thomas Hughes, Case No. 00 CIVIL
6695 (AKH), alleges that short-swing trading of common stock were issued
by the company to Mr. Hughes in violation of Section 16(b) of the
Securities Exchange Act of 1934. On November 29, 2000, the plaintiff
voluntarily dismissed this action.

ECONNECT: Settles 2000 SEC Complaint over Misleading Press Releases
In a complaint filed on March 23, 2000 (Securities and Exchange
Commission v. eConnect and Thomas S. Hughes, Civil Action No. CV 00 02959
AHM (C.D. Cal.)), the SEC alleged that since February 28, 2000, the
company issued false and misleading press releases claiming: (1) the
company and its joint venture partner had a unique licensing arrangement
with PalmPilot; and (2) a subsidiary of the company had a strategic
alliance with a brokerage firm concerning a system that would permit cash
transactions over the Internet. The complaint further alleges that the
press releases, which were disseminated through a wire service as well as
by postings on internet bulletin boards, caused a dramatic rise in the
price of the company's stock from $1.39 on February 28 to a high of
$21.88 on March 9, 2000, on heavy trading volume.

The SEC suspended trading in the company's common stock on the Over the
Counter Bulletin Board on March 13 for a period of 10 trading days
(trading resumed on the National Quotation Bureau's Pink Sheets on March
27, 2000).

The complaint alleges that despite the trading suspension and the SEC's
related investigation, the company and Mr. Hughes continued to issue
false and misleading statements concerning the company's business
opportunities. In addition to the interim relief granted, the Commission
seeks a final judgment against the company and Mr. Hughes enjoining them
from future violations of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule
10b-5 thereunder (the anti-fraud provisions of that act) and assessing
civil penalties against them. On March 24, 2000, a temporary restraining
order was issued in the above-entitled action prohibiting the company and
Mr. Hughes, from committing violations of the antifraud provisions of the
federal securities laws. The company and Mr. Hughes consented to the
temporary restraining order.

On April 6, 2000, without admitting or denying the allegations contained
in said complaint, the company and Mr. Hughes entered into a settlement
by consent that has resulted in the entry of permanent injunctive relief.
The settlement agreement with the SEC was accepted and a judgment of
permanent injunction was entered by the Court on April 7, 2000. The
judgment that the company and Mr. Hughes consented to prohibits the
company and Mr. Hughes from taking any action or making any statement, or
failing to make any statement that would violate Section 10(b) of the
Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The court has
yet to determine whether disgorgement, civil penalties or other relief
should be assessed against the company and/or Mr. Hughes.

ECONNECT: Tells Investors of Late Filings Due to 1999 SEC Injunction
On March 12, 1999, the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") filed a
complaint alleging the company had failed to make available to the
investing public current and accurate information about its financial
condition and results of operations through the filing of periodic
reports as required by the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (specifically,
the Form 10- KSB for the 1997 and 1998 fiscal years, the Form 10QSB for
each of the first three quarters of fiscal 1998, and the corresponding
Notifications of Late Filings (Form 12b-25)). The SEC sought in this
action to compel the company to file delinquent reports and enjoin the
company from further violations of the reporting requirements. The
company consented to the entry of a final judgment granting the relief
sought by the SEC.

Although this action has been concluded, since the permanent injunction
was entered the company has been late with the following reports:

Form 10QSB for the quarter ended February 28, 1999 (due by April 29, 1999
because of the filing of a Form 12b-25) - filed with the SEC on May 28,

Form 10QSB for the quarter ended June 30, 1999 (due by August 14, 1999) -
filed with the SEC on August 23, 1999 (due to an error in the CIK code
for the company entered on the EDGAR electronic filing system)

Form 10-QSB for the transition period ended December 31, 1998 (due by
July 5, 1999) - filed with the SEC on September 3, 1999

Form 8-K to reflect a certain acquisition by the company (due by May 21,
1999) - filed with the SEC on November 15, 1999

Form 8-K to reflect two acquisitions by the company (due by September 15,
1999) - filed with the SEC on November 16, 1999

Form 10-KSB for the period ended on December 31, 1999 (due by April 14,
2000) - filed with the SEC on May 9, 2000 Form 10-QSB for the quarter
ended March 31, 2000 (due by May 22, 2000). The Form 10-QSB's for the
quarters ended June 30, 2000 and September 30, 2000 were timely filed.

FLEET MORTGAGE: MN A.G. Called a Consumer Privacy Activist
With his sortie against Fleet Mortgage last Thursday December 28,
Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch emerged as a public crusader for
consumer privacy -- and the latest gadfly to take on the big financial
services companies.

However, unlike Mr. Hatch's other big-bank target, Fleet has vowed to
fight his suit and tersely refuted the charges as "inflammatory" and

The suit against Fleet -- which alleges that it shared customer
information with telemarketers and charged fees on mortgage accounts
without authorization is the fourth public action Mr. Hatch's office has
taken on privacy in two years and the second against a major financial

"Mr. Hatch clearly has been a real activist, and is using a theory of a
law to hold Fleet liable," said Dan Forte, president and chief executive
officer of Massachusetts Bankers Association. "He's been out front on
these issues, and he has made this a high priority on his agenda."

In 1999 the attorney general alleged in a lawsuit that U.S. Bancorp had
earned over $4 million by illegally sharing detailed customer information
with MemberWorks Inc., a telemarketer. U.S. Bancorp quickly announced a
new privacy policy and settled the suit three weeks after it was filed.

Privacy remains a festering issue in the debate over the shape of modern
financial services. Over the last two years the issue has received lots
of attention from Congress, public-interest lawyers, and consumers.
Indeed, regulators have yet to hash out the details of the
Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act's privacy provisions.

But the heightened emotional and political passions the topic incites
have limited what financial institutions can do to defend themselves.

What's more, the privacy fight contributed to a particularly tough year
for financial firms in the area of consumer protections, as issues
ranging from predatory lending to bias in insurance underwriting to
credit-card late-fee abuses garnered increased scrutiny. While some
firms, including several credit card providers hit by class actions,
quietly rolled with the punches and succumbed to pressure to settle out
of court (see related story on page 1), for now Fleet appears to be one
of the few willing to fight the charges.

In the latest suit, Mr. Hatch charges that the FleetBoston Financial
Corp. unit shared its customers' home mortgage account numbers, contact
numbers, and other personal information with telemarketing companies. The
suit alleges that telemarketers sold membership organizations that
purportedly offered discounts on and coupons for services ranging from
car maintenance to legal fees, the suit charges. Fleet and the
telemarketing firms allegedly led consumers to believe that they were
agreeing to free trials in a membership club.

"Fleet bills the customer's mortgage account for the club unless the
customer affirmatively acts to cancel within 30 days," the suit says. The
charges appeared without any written consent from the homeowner, and
Fleet retained a percentage of the sales as profits, according to the

Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Prentiss Cox said the suit is
similar to the action against U.S. Bancorp in that the office is alleging
misrepresentations and violations of the consumer protection laws in the
sharing of personal financial data, but he said there are two key

First, Mr. Cox said, Fleet, whose alleged activities he called
"appalling," shared mortgage account numbers, which consumers do not
understand can be billed for items wholly unrelated to principle
interest, tax, and insurance. Second, "we allege that Fleet is liable
under Minnesota consumer protection laws for the deceptive telemarketing
program in which they fully participated with the telemarketer."

Fleet said that the Minnesota Attorney General's office announced the
suit before providing the company with a copy of the lawsuit or an
opportunity to discuss the allegations. The company said that the charges
contain allegations that are "inaccurate and are based on incomplete
facts," and that it would vigorously defend itself.

Mr. Cox said the attorney general's office sat down to talk with Fleet
officials, but the company "made it very clear that they were going to
continue to solicit and charge consumers as long as we just continued to
talk to them." He also said Fleet made a decision to continue its
business conduct, even though it was aware of the concerns.

Fleet has known for some time that its customers believe they have been
charged for these membership programs without authorization, Mr. Cox

Bert Ely, a financial institutions consultant with Ely & Co. in
Alexandria, Va., said that the debate and concern over privacy escalated
dramatically last year, but he cautioned that regulatory and statutory
specifics remain unclear and should be given a chance to play out.

"One wonders to what extent is the Minnesota Attorney General ahead of
the curve or maybe off on a tangent that does not reflect current law or
can be reasonably divined from current law," he said. "And he may even be
going beyond where things seem to be headed."

One thing, however, appears certain: Financial institutions, observers
say, must be incredibly careful with the information they share and the
partnerships they form, regardless of public policy.

"This is a big issue that needs to evolve over the next few years, and we
will see more legislation filed," Mr. Forte said. "We're telling our
members to get geared up. The privacy rules from Graham Leach Bliley are
coming into effect. Get up and ready, and give them a chance to work."

Mr. Ely said banks must be very careful how information-sharing
arrangements are set up, and in some cases the companies should seek
clarification of the rules. "But we are dealing with an elected public
official, and politics can never totally removed from this process," he
said. "To the extent that some cynicism might arise in certain quarters
over what's behind this thing, that would be understandable."

Rodrigo J. Alba, director of residential finance/regulatory affairs for
the Mortgage Bankers Association, said that Gramm-Leach-Bliley's privacy
regulations were written broadly and often without any regard for the
intricacies of a mortgage transaction.

"These novel and elusive provisions will provide very fertile ground for
the class action bar and over-zealous enforcement officials to come after
lenders and financial institutions," he said. "Make no mistake about it,
the new mandates, even if confusing and untested, will serve as a basis
to tightly scrutinize activities of all lenders and financial
institutions." (The American Banker, January 2, 2001)

GBI CAPITAL: TX Ct Grants Dismissal of Suit Re Underwriting of Mitcham
As reported by GBI Capital Management Corp in its filing with the SEC, in
January 1999, GBI Capital Partners was named as a defendant in a class
action lawsuit commenced in the United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas relating to a secondary public offering of
Mitcham Industries, Inc. for which it served as an underwriter with
Jefferies & Company, Inc. and Rauscher Pierce Refsnes, Inc. (the
"Moskowitz Class Action").

That offering involved the sale of approximately $35,000,000 in
securities, although the amount of damages claimed was undeterminable at
the time. GBI Capital Partners, along with the other underwriters, is
entitled to be indemnified by Mitcham Industries, Inc. pursuant to the
underwriting agreement executed in connection with that offering, subject
to certain qualifications, reservations and limitations as provided in
that underwriting agreement. On September 28, 1999, the underwriter
defendants' (including GBI Capital Partners) motion to dismiss this
lawsuit against them was granted by the Court. On or about December 8,
1999, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. On January 18, 2000, the
underwriter defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint.
On October 2, 2000, the underwriter defendants' motion to dismiss the
amended complaint was granted by the Court.

HMOs: Physician-Favored PacifiCare Reported to Crumble on Wall Street
PacifiCare Health Systems, one of the nation's largest health insurance
companies and the biggest provider of Medicare HMO members in the U.S.,
expected to have some internal problems in 2000 due to cuts in Medicare
reimbursement and rising medical costs. Yet, no one could have predicted
that the California-based insurer would have three different CEOs, an 80%
drop in its stock price and layoffs involving nearly 1,000 employees
inside of a year. With the company backing away from its current payment
method and focusing on limited and controlled growth, PacifiCare intends
to restore its strength and earnings potential over the long term.

                            Looking Back

In many ways, 2000 ended just the way it began, with Santa Ana, CA-based
PacifiCare Health Systems announcing changes in its chief executive
officer position and more job cuts, leading healthcare insiders to
speculate that the company soon would be merged or sold to a major

PacifiCare was profitable when the year began. It was one of the few
California HMOs that recorded a profit in 1999, according to the
California Medical Association, with income up 38% to $278.5 million and
operating revenue rising 5% to $9.5 billion. But by year's end,
PacifiCare had announced a fourth-quarter restructuring charge of $15
million to $17 million for severance and related employee benefits, and a
class-action lawsuit was filed against the company and several of its
executives in California state court, claiming PacifiCare had deceived
shareholders for financial gain. So much for finding a buyer anytime

The lawsuit was filed December 20, 2000, on behalf of everyone who bought
PacifiCare stock from October 27, 1999, to October 10, 2000. It also
alleges that the nation's largest Medicare HMO artificially inflated its
stock price by misrepresenting how much its switch from capitated
provider contracts to shared-risk contracts would impair earnings. The
next day, Howard G. Phanstiel was announced as president and CEO of
PacifiCare after serving as its interim president and CEO since October
2000--Phanstiel began his new position with a docket full of problems.

From January when PacifiCare laid off 400 workers to December when it
announced layoffs of another 550, it was virtually one setback after
another for the company. In February, for instance, PacifiCare completed
its acquisition of Harris Methodist Health Plans from Texas Health
Resources, adding nearly 300,000 commercial and Medicare+Choice members
to one of its core markets. But in November, the Texas Department of
Insurance put PacifiCare of Texas on administrative oversight because of
concerns over quality of care, late payments to physicians and adequate
access to physicians.

In February, Alan Hoops announced that he would be leaving PacifiCare by
March 2001 after 23 years with the company, the last seven as chief
executive officer. But he was gone by late June 2000, replaced by Robert
O'Leary, a former CEO of Premier Inc. In response, PacifiCare shares
dropped 6.9%, which Wall Street attributed to O'Leary's lack of managed
care experience. O'Leary lasted until mid-October when changes in
PacifiCare's business model and, more importantly, an 80% drop in the
company's stock made him realize that the job was much more than he could
handle. O'Leary was replaced by Phanstiel.

In July 2000, PacifiCare dropped its Secure Horizons Medicare HMO in 15
rural counties covering five states, and capped enrollment in many
counties of California, Texas, Oregon, Colorado and Washington. In Orange
County, CA, St. Joseph's Health System, the region's largest medical
group, abruptly canceled its contract with PacifiCare due to low
reimbursement rates, affecting 120,000 HMO members, followed by the
Greater Newport Physicians group, which provided care for 40,000
PacifiCare patients.

Meanwhile, PacifiCare's profits continued to nosedive, medical costs
continued to soar, several investor services downgraded the company's
outlook to "negative" and stocks plummeted to $12 a share. Said one
financial analyst, "I don't see how it can get much worse for them." Wait
and see.


PacifiCare has two major problems. One is the company's large Medicare
business, covering more than 1 million beneficiaries. Since 1997, when
Congress passed the Balanced Budget Act limiting the percentage of
reimbursement increases to 2% annually, PacifiCare has been getting
squeezed more and more by the federal government until the company no
longer could afford the cost of providing basic care.

PacifiCare has expanded a freeze on new Medicare HMO enrollment to 41
counties in five states, which has helped cut costs some. However, that
has led to lower earnings, including the company's ability to adapt to
the increasing number of shared-risk contracts with providers, and the
reduced flexibility of its operating companies to produce cash for the
consolidated organization, which lowered its credit rating.

The other problem is PacifiCare's huge concentration of members in
California. Approximately 1.8 million of its 3 million commercial HMO
members, plus 567,000 Medicare+Choice members, live in the Golden State,
which has been rocked the past several years with physician groups going
bankrupt and hospitals demanding costlier contracts. And the situation
continues to grow worse.

In November 2000, PacifiCare officials set aside a reserve against the
possible loss of $9.7 million loaned to financially troubled KPC Medical
Management (Anaheim, CA). The $9.7 million was part of a $24 million
charge against third-quarter earnings taken by the company to cover costs
associated with insolvent physician groups and uncollectable loans. A few
weeks later, KPC went bankrupt. PacifiCare likely will never see that
money again.

Ironically, the reason California's medical groups are going broke is due
to the capitated payments paid by insurers. Unlike other managed care
organizations in the state, PacifiCare continued to cling to capitation,
which reimburses providers on a fixed per member/per month basis
regardless of how much care is needed, because it shifted all the
financial risk to the provider and helped cap the insurer's medical
costs. In 1999, about 80% of PacifiCare's HMO members were covered under
capitated contracts.

But in 2000, hospitals increasingly have refused to assume that financial
risk, which caught PacifiCare off guard. Now, only about 60% of
PacifiCare's members are under such arrangements, meaning the company is
sharing more of the risk--and the cost--in providing care. That has
driven PacifiCare's costs skyward and hurt the company's profitability,
particularly at a time when PacifiCare was facing some strong opposition
from several insurers including WellPoint Health Networks, Foundation
Health Systems and Aetna Inc.

In the third quarter of 2000, PacifiCare's commercial premiums rose 13%
on average, but that was only enough to compensate for the last two to
three years of underpricing its products.

PacifiCare has had a difficult time predicting costs, which have soared
in the past year. One analyst told the New York Times that the company
repriced 70% of their commercial business using flawed estimates of
shared-risk costs. The other 30% likely will be priced aggressively to
compensate for the anticipated loss, although provider instability will
hurt the insurer's ability to get hospitals to accept part of the risk.

PacifiCare expects to see its membership convert from capitation
agreements to shared-risk contracts with providers in 2001 as an
increasing number of hospitals make the switch, according to CEO
Phanstiel. He told analysts in November 2000 that another 15% to 20% of
the hospitals contracted with the insurers will convert from capitation.
In addition, PacifiCare has been taking on greater underwriting risk to
compensate for its move away from a capitated payment system, which
should help.

                            Looking Ahead

Before O'Leary resigned, PacifiCare officials warned that it expected to
have difficulty transitioning from a capitated payment system to a
shared-risk system with providers through the remainder of 2000, and that
its full-year earnings would fall well below analysts' estimates. They
added that while legislation was pending before Congress to boost annual
Medicare premiums to 3% from its present 2%, there was no assurance that
any bill would be enacted before year's end. In reality, the House and
Senate have passed a bill that is now awaiting President Clinton's
signature that would increase the minimum payment for Medicare HMO
members. The bill would increase Medicare premiums to 3% on March 1,
returning to 2% after Oct. 1.

Phanstiel, who has a background in finance and insurance, is realistic
about PacifiCare's short-term future. He hopes to "show signs of
progress" in the company's finances as it enters a new period of "limited
and controlled growth," as shown in the decision to freeze new membership
for the Medicare+Choice program in 2001. But even he admits it will be at
least two years before any turnaround can be completed. Whether he is the
man for the job long-term remains to be seen.

Further cutbacks in markets outside of California and more layoffs are
still possible. PacifiCare needs to continue its quest of reaching an
equal number of commercial HMO and Secure Horizon enrollees to offset any
future losses associated with the Medicare business.

In November 2000, PacifiCare announced that it expected fourth-quarter
profit to range from 20 cents a share to 30 cents a share, beating the 7
cents a share projected by First Call/Thompson Financial. If that holds
true, and PacifiCare's balance sheet and cash flow remain in good shape,
the company may be well on its way toward realizing significant progress,
and possibly profitability, by the end of 2001.

Now the question is whether PacifiCare is rebuilding itself to remain a
major player in the health insurance business, or is simply making itself
more attractive to a suitor. Yet, if it's the latter, not many companies
would want to acquire a million Medicare members when there is no
guarantee that reimbursement rates will improve in 2001 or 2002.
PacifiCare is an attractive company because of the markets it is
in--California, Texas, Colorado--but the downside (i.e., much of it being
Medicare business) could be too much for any company such as Aetna to
risk taking.

Actually, it would be a shame to see PacifiCare break up, particularly in
California, where it continues to have a solid reputation. In a recent
Healthcare Association of Southern California survey of 85 physician
groups and 154 hospitals statewide, PacifiCare was rated the best health
plan of the eight evaluated, which included Aetna, CIGNA, Blue Cross of
California, Blue Shield of California, United HealthCare and Health Net.
PacifiCare was rated highest in member services, contracting practices
and, ironically, capitation.

The best guess is that PacifiCare will struggle along by itself for the
next two years, then may consider merging with one of the industry
giants. Much will depend on Congress and PacifiCare's newly assembled
management team. One thing is for sure, 2001 couldn't be any worse than
2000. But never say never.

Resource: Medical Data International's "Managed Care IQ Provider & Payer
Database," December 2000. (By Michael Casey, Managed Care Analyst Medical
Data International, Medical Industry Today, January 2, 2001)

MAJOR LEAGUE: Soccer Players Score Nought in Federal Antitrust Lawsuit
New York A federal jury in Boston has rejected an antitrust action
against Major League Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation
brought by players claiming that the defendants have conspired to
establish a monopoly, restrain competition and keep down salaries.

On Dec. 11, the jury determined that Major League Soccer does not have a
monopoly in the market for professional soccer players because the
players have the option of finding jobs in leagues outside the United
States, noted lead defense counsel Michael Cardozo of New York's
Proskauer Rose. Because the jury found no monopoly power in the relevant
market, it did not rule on the other antitrust charges claimed by the
plaintiffs, Cardozo said.

In 1993, the U.S. Soccer Federation selected Major League Soccer over
several other applicants as the only major professional soccer league in
the United States, said Cardozo. This selection was made final in 1995,
and the league started in 1996. The league has teams in 12 U.S. cities,
Cardozo said. Unlike most professional sports leagues, Major League
Soccer was set up as a single limited liability company. All teams are
owned by the league, said Cardozo; investors are given the right to own
one of the teams. The league sets salaries for all players, he added.

In 1997, eight professional soccer players sued the league and the
federation, charging violations of antitrust regulations. The plaintiffs
were certified as a class that year, said plaintiffs' attorney Jeffrey
Kessler of New York's Weil Gotshal & Manges. The plaintiffs contended
that the process of selecting Major League Soccer as the only top-level
professional league in the United States violated Sec. II of the Sherman
Antitrust Act and that the league's single-entity structure violates Sec.

In April, District Judge George O'Toole dismissed the latter claim. The
eight plaintiffs were seeking a total of $ 1.4 million, to be trebled.
The plaintiffs will appeal the jury's decision as well as Judge O'Toole's
rulings, said Kessler. This article previously appeared in The National
Law Journal, an American Lawyer Media publication. (The Legal
Intelligencer, December 21, 2000)

NATIONWIDE VL: Ohio Ct Refuses to Dismiss Deferred Annuity Products Suit
On October 29, 1998, Nationwide VL Separate Account-C was named in a
lawsuit filed in Ohio state court related to the sale of deferred annuity
products for use as investments in tax-deferred contributory retirement
plans (Mercedes Castillo v. Nationwide Financial Services, Inc.,
Nationwide Life Insurance Company and Nationwide Life and Annuity
Insurance Company). On May 3, 1999, the complaint was amended to, among
other things, add Marcus Shore as a second plaintiff. The amended
complaint is brought asa class action on behalf of all persons who
purchased individual deferred annuity contracts or participated in group
annuity contracts sold by Nationwide and the other named Nationwide
affiliates which were used to fund certain tax-deferred retirement plans.
The amended complaint seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive
damages. No class has been certified. On June 11, 1999, Nationwide and
the other named defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended
complaint. On March 8, 2000, the Court denied the motion to dismiss the
amended complaint filed by Nationwide and the other named defendants.
Nationwide intends to defend this lawsuit vigorously.

PA DEPT: Public Welfare Suit Settled with Wraparound Services in 60 Days
When Nicole Turman asked the state in June 1999 for a trained assistant
to help with her developmentally disabled son, she was told she would
have to wait. And wait. And wait.

Eleven months later, Turman, of Windber, Somerset County, finally got
what she was entitled to under federal law -- a therapeutic support
staffer, or TSS worker, who would come to her house or to her son's
school to provide him with the stimulation and therapy he needed. Now,
advocates for the disabled hope delays such as hers will become a thing
of the past.

A class-action lawsuit filed by the Disabilities Law Project in June 1999
against the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare has resulted in a
tentative settlement that will require the state to provide families with
the behavioral health rehabilitation, or "wraparound services," they need
within 60 days.

The plaintiffs -- seven children who filed the lawsuit on behalf of
themselves and all Medical Assistance recipients younger than 21 eligible
for such help -- claimed the state Welfare Department was violating their
federal rights because services weren't being provided to them promptly.

Wraparound services are relatively new in the treatment of children who
are mentally, behaviorally or developmentally disabled.

The services are tailored to, or "wrapped around," families and their
individual needs, instead of requiring families with high-risk children
and youths to fit into established programs, some of them out of state.

It's not clear how many children in Pennsylvania are eligible for the
services, or how long families have had to wait for them, but one of the
named plaintiffs in the lawsuit had experienced a two-year delay in
getting help. And another plaintiff, "Kirk T.," received only 1.5 days of
behavioral treatment, despite suicidal behavior, repeated
hospitalizations and a recommendation by his psychologist that he receive
40 hours per week of "specialized intensive behavioral treatment."

Notice of the settlement, which was signed by U.S. District Judge Ronald
Buckwalter early this month, has been sent to all Medicaid families with
eligible children younger than 20, inviting them to comment at a final
court hearing in Philadelphia on Jan. 29.

The settlement requires that, during the 60-day period after a family
first asks for help, county providers conduct an evaluation, an
interagency team meeting and a review of the request for services. The
Welfare Department also will be required to collect information showing
whether families have experienced delays. If, after a year, there are
still long waiting lists, the court will review the settlement agreement
and make changes.

State welfare officials declined to comment, citing the pending court

But department spokesman Jay Pagni noted that the court had praised the
state's efforts to expand wraparound services, which about 300 children
received in 1993 and more than 19,000 children got in 1999. The budget
for wraparound programs in Pennsylvania has also increased dramatically,
from $ 2 million in 1993 to $ 222 million last year, although much of
that was federal money.

The settlement not only establishes stricter timelines for compliance but
also eases some requirements for hiring TSS workers -- the real problem
behind all the delays, said one advocate.

"The state wasn't denying children the services; they just weren't able
to find qualified people to take the jobs," said Rachel Mann, a lawyer
with the Disabilities Law Project in Philadelphia.

TSS workers were required to have four years of college plus one year of
experience in working with children, Mann said. With salaries averaging $
10 to $ 15 an hour for a high-stress position, there were relatively few
applicants right out of college. With that in mind, new standards for TSS
workers were crafted under the settlement that call for a minimum of two
years of college and three years of experience working with children.
Providers also will be required to provide training and monitoring of
these workers. "It's not that the money is so terrible," said John
Lovelace, chief program officer of Community Care Behavioral Health,
which is Allegheny County's managed care program for Medicaid recipients.
"It's finding someone willing to handle the demands of this kind of

About 1,000 children have wraparound plans in the county today, he said,
with about 35 providers or agencies working to meet their needs. As more
becomes known about mental and behavioral disorders, the number of
eligible children has skyrocketed, and treatment has become diversified.
"Ten years ago, it was either outpatient or inpatient," said Lovelace.
Now, a family can choose a case manager to organize all the logistics of
their child's care, from transportation to paperwork, or rely on
wraparound services to provide more limited individualized clinical
treatment, from drug and alcohol rehabilitation to educational support.

While some advocates of the wraparound approach say it's more
cost-effective, Lovelace cautions that "the jury is still out. Some
children who might be spending more time in a hospital might not be under
the wraparound approach, but as a rule, seriously disturbed kids need a
lot of support and that can be expensive." For Turman, it's money well
spent. A TSS worker has made all the difference to her 7-year-old son,
Harper, who suffers from Cornelia deLange Syndrome, a rare genetic
disorder with only 3,000 identified cases worldwide. Children with the
disorder can experience severe physical and developmental delays and
severe mental retardation, although Harper Turman has only a mild case,
with near-normal intelligence. Still, "his nervous system is somewhat
off-kilter," his mother said, requiring a great deal of sensory
stimulation and therapy. He has a need for constant motion, which calms
and soothes him.

With the help of his TSS worker and a detailed behavioral plan to deal
with safety issues and impulse control, Harper is now settling
comfortably into school. He has a large, square platform swing attached
by four ropes that he uses there, along with a weighted vest, to help
alleviate his need for movement in a safe manner, and the TSS worker
helps with his communication problems. "Before, he was having lots of
difficulties, and the school didn't think they could educate him," Turman
said. "It was prepared to send him away to another very restrictive
special education program, where he would be in a small class with only
other kids with disabilities."

For a boy who wants desperately to be "just like other kids," that would
have been disastrous, she said. "But now, while he does have special
education sometime during the day, he is mostly in a regular classroom
with typically developing kids, and he's doing very well. (Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette, December 29, 2000)

RAILS TO TRAILS: Panhandle Trail Land Owner Seeks Class Action Status
Marion Taylor says the federal government should pay her for land it is
using in a Rails-to-Trails project. If her lawsuit, filed last month, is
certified as a class-action case, other landowners along Pennsylvania
rail trails could join it to try to collect money, too, said attorney
David Cohen of Washington, D.C.

Taylor lives along the Panhandle Trail, which extends 29 miles from
Collier Township near Pittsburgh to Weirton, W.Va. The Rails-to-Trails
program converts former rail lines into walking and biking paths. The
Panhandle Trail land was last used by Conrail in 1995, but it was
originally built by the Pittsburgh and Steubenville Railroad Co. in the
1850s, Taylor's lawsuit states. Taylor says the owner of what is now her
property granted an easement to Pittsburgh and Steubenville Railroad.
Because that railroad isn't using the land, Taylor says it is hers and
the government should pay her fair market value for it.

Taylor is seeking less than $10,000 in damages. (The Associated Press
State & Local Wire, January 2, 2001)

TOBACCO LITIGATION: Apartment Smoking May Be Banned Statewide in CA
Two years after California expanded its toughest-in-the-nation ban on
workplace smoking to cover all bars and restaurants, both bar profits and
the law's popularity are on the rise — and a new movement to expand
smoking restrictions into the home has begun.

The new move began in the ultraliberal Los Angeles suburb of West
Hollywood, where the City Council in November passed an ordinance
allowing nonsmoking apartment dwellers to file complaints when tobacco
smoke drifts into their windows or doors from a neighbor's unit. Tenants
who refuse city arbitration will face fines and eviction. So far,
densely-populated West Hollywood is the only California city with such a
law, but city councils in other liberal bastions like Santa Monica and
San Francisco say they'll monitor how the measure works and may imitate
it soon.

"Smoke is a serious health hazard to people who have health problems and
can't take being next to that smoke," said West Hollywood Councilman Paul
Koretz. "But many of these people are on relatively low, fixed incomes
and can't afford to move when they're bothered by their neighbors."

Unlike the local measure, which passed with little significant
opposition, the statewide workplace restrictions that took effect two
years ago met strong resistance. But reports from California's business
tax agency and the results of a state-funded poll of bar owners and
customers indicate consumer acceptance of the ban on smoking in bars is
on the rise and that business at bars has increased, even though most
regular barflies still don't like it. The survey, conducted by the San
Francisco-based Field Institute, found that 92 percent of restaurants and
59 percent of bars are complying with the anti-smoking law. Those are
increases of about 10 percent from a year earlier. Among 1,000 persons
who described themselves as "recent bar patrons," 44 percent said they
support the smoking ban, up from 24 percent in 1998. And 75 percent of
bar customers described having a smoke-free environment in taverns and
restaurants as "important." That was an increase from 66 percent in late

The state's Board of Equalization, meanwhile, reported that sales were up
7.4 percent at restaurants and bars since the smoking ban took effect.
Taxable receipts increased 9.1 percent at establishments licensed to sell
only beer and wine and 6.3 percent at those serving all types of liquor.
"The only one being hurt in all this is the tobacco industry," boasted
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who helped write city
smoking restrictions while a Los Angeles councilman in the 1980s. "Bars
and restaurants have been one of the last bastions of tobacco use, but
the culture is changing."

The National Smoking Alliance, however, quickly challenged the results of
the state survey. "The anecdotal information we have is that fewer than
50 percent of restaurants and bars are complying with the law," said the
group's president, Tom Humber. "Plus, a lot of places have added to their
outdoor patios to accommodate their smoking customers." But Los Angeles
County officials said they believe the survey numbers are correct.

The county has randomly inspected 700 establishments during peak
nighttime hours each year since the smoking ban took effect, and a public
health department spokesman said the poll numbers closely approximate the
county's experience. Citing the poll's finding that 55 percent of bar
customers say they enjoy smoke-free bars more than smoke-filled ones,
state Health Director Diana Bonta said, "The majority of bars and bar
patrons are complying with the law." But defiance continues at many bars,
even though Los Angeles police alone issued 207 citations for violating
the law in 1999. No one has tracked the number of violations statewide.
"We'll never knuckle under," said the owner of one tavern in the Venice
district of Los Angeles where the state-required sign advertising the ban
is posted upside down. "As long as my customers want to smoke, I'll let
them. No government is going to change me." (By Thomas D. Elias, The
Washington Times, January 2, 2001)

* Feds May Release Bad Doctors List Reversing Secrecy Policy of 20 Years
Federal health officials say they will soon allow Medicare beneficiaries
to obtain information about doctors who may have made errors, a move that
reverses a policy that has kept medical mistakes secret for more than 20
years, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Under new Department of Health and Human Services rules, patients will be
told if their care met professionally recognized standards and if there
has been any action against their doctors or hospitals.

Patients could use the information against the health care providers in
lawsuits or other actions alleging substandard treatment, the paper said.

Under current federal law, a group of medical quality experts informs the
patient of the final disposition of the complaint but can only release
information about a doctor with the doctor's consent.

The new policy, which eliminates the doctors' veto power, comes in
response to a lawsuit against the federal government by the son of a
Medicare patient who died in a Jacksonville, Fla., hospital six days
after being admitted because of an asthma attack.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently told the Florida
review organization to release the information to the patient's son,
whose lawsuit is still pending, and said it would change the Medicare
policy to help other people obtain health care information. (Published in
the Associated Press, January 2, 2001)


S U B S C R I P T I O N  I N F O R M A T I O N

Class Action Reporter is a daily newsletter, co-published by Bankruptcy
Creditors' Service, Inc., Princeton, NJ, and Beard Group, Inc.,
Washington, DC. Theresa Cheuk, Managing Editor.

Copyright 1999.  All rights reserved.  ISSN 1525-2272.

This material is copyrighted and any commercial use, resale or
publication in any form (including e-mail forwarding, electronic
re-mailing and photocopying) is strictly prohibited without prior
written permission of the publishers.

Information contained herein is obtained from sources believed to be
reliable, but is not guaranteed.

The CAR subscription rate is $575 for six months delivered via e-mail.
Additional e-mail subscriptions for members of the same firm for the
term of the initial subscription or balance thereof are $25 each.  For
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