Texas Froze and California Burned. To Insurers, They Look Similar.

In California, insurers were able to point to a state law, since amended, that held power utilities liable for the fires their equipment started, even without a finding of negligence. In Texas, the law requires a showing of gross negligence. And last month, the biggest target of consumer blame — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT — was effectively granted sovereign immunity by the Texas Supreme Court. The ruling, in an unrelated case, left standing a state appellate decision that ERCOT is “a quasi-governmental regulator, performing an essential public service” and therefore can’t be sued.

ERCOT’s liability insurer isn’t taking any chances, though. Last week, the Cincinnati Insurance Company filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas seeking a ruling that it has no duty to provide a legal defense for ERCOT, or to make it whole for the sums it would have to pay for property damage or injuries. ERCOT bought a liability-insurance policy from Cincinnati, but the insurer said that the coverage applied only to damage caused by accidents, and that the harm from February’s power outages was “foreseeable, expected and/or intended.”

Estimates of the damage from the storm vary greatly, but none are small. Karen Clark & Company, which models catastrophe losses, has predicted that insured losses from the storm will reach $18 billion, spread over 20 states. But the firm says more than half the losses were in Texas, which years ago isolated itself from neighboring grids, making it impossible for unaffected providers to pick up the slack.

The damage was so extensive that freelance adjusters had to be flown in from other states just to handle all the claims.

“Some families couldn’t get hold of their insurance companies for weeks,” said Tom Formeller, a stucco and exterior-painting contractor in Houston who reinvented himself as an emergency plumber after the storm.

In normal times, he said, families would have paid him upfront for the repairs, then waited for their insurance checks. But with unemployment high from the pandemic, some families didn’t have the cash, so Mr. Formeller capped their pipes for free and told them to pay when they could.

“I had one 78-year-old woman, by herself, who’d been going without water for nine days,” he said. The woman told Mr. Formeller that she would get a loan to pay him, but he sorted out the delay with her insurer and completed $13,000 in repairs.

Even if the power suppliers are forced to pick up the costs of damage from the winter storm, it’s not clear what — if any — steps they might take to prepare for the next one. In a recent survey of Texans by the University of Houston, about half rejected the notion of winter-proofing the grid if it meant they would pay more for power.

Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.

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A $1.2 Million Bank Error Buys a House, and an Arrest, Officials Say

It was the type of windfall that investors pine for with every rally on Wall Street: $1,205,619.56 had inexplicably ended up in the brokerage account of a 911 dispatcher in Louisiana in February.

But the next day, when Charles Schwab tried to recover the money it had deposited in error into the account of Kelyn Spadoni, the authorities said, about a quarter of the funds were already gone. For about a month, the company said, calls, emails and text messages to Ms. Spadoni went unanswered.

The funds had been transferred to another account and used by Ms. Spadoni to buy a house and a Hyundai Genesis sport utility vehicle, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. She was arrested on fraud and theft charges on April 7 and fired as a dispatcher the same day, the Sheriff’s Office said.

In a lawsuit filed against Ms. Spadoni in federal court in New Orleans, Charles Schwab said that it was supposed to have moved only $82.56 into Ms. Spadoni’s Fidelity Brokerage Services account, but that a software glitch had caused it to mistakenly transfer the seven-figure sum.

“I think most people understand about how much money is in their bank accounts,” Capt. Jason Rivarde, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said in an interview on Monday. “When you’re expecting $80 and you get $1.2 million, there’s probably something wrong there.”

Ms. Spadoni, 33, of Harvey, La., has been charged with bank fraud, illegal transmission of monetary funds and theft greater than $25,000, the authorities said. She had been a dispatcher for four and a half years in the parish, just outside New Orleans.

She did not immediately respond to phone and email requests for comment on Monday, and there was no record that she had a lawyer.

Ms. Spadoni was released on $150,000 bond on Thursday, according to Captain Rivarde, who said that a vast majority of the missing money had been recovered.

A spokesman for Charles Schwab said in an email on Sunday night that the company was fully cooperating with the authorities in an effort to resolve the issue, but declined to comment further.

According to the company, Ms. Spadoni opened the brokerage account in January, and the excess cash was added to a transfer request that she made in February.

Realizing the mistake, Schwab tried to reclaim the money through a computer system, but got a message that said “Cash not available,” the lawsuit said. A second attempt was also rejected, and Schwab received a message that said: “Insufficient funds, please work directly with the client to resolve.”

A Schwab employee called Ms. Spadoni four times but was unable to leave a message during two of those attempts because her answering machine was full, the lawsuit said. A corporate counsel for Schwab then called Ms. Spadoni at the Sheriff’s Office but was told that she was unavailable, according to the lawsuit, which said he then sent several text messages.

In its lawsuit, Schwab said that it had begun an arbitration proceeding against Ms. Spadoni with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, but that it would take two months for a resolution to the case. The company said it filed the lawsuit because it wanted to make sure that Ms. Spadoni did not spend the mistakenly transferred funds before the arbitration hearing.

“When you take something that obviously doesn’t belong to you,” Captain Rivarde said, “that would be theft.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Smartmatic says disinformation on Fox News about the election was ‘no accident.’

The election technology company Smartmatic pushed back on Monday against Fox News’s argument that it had covered the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election responsibly, stating that Fox anchors had played along as guests pushed election-related conspiracy theories.

“The First Amendment does not provide the Fox defendants a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Smartmatic’s lawyer, J. Erik Connolly, wrote in a brief filed in New York State Supreme Court. “The Fox defendants do not get a do-over with their reporting now that they have been sued.”

The brief came in response to motions filed by Fox Corporation and three current and former Fox hosts — Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs — to dismiss a Smartmatic lawsuit accusing them of defamation.

Smartmatic and another company, Dominion Voting Systems, became the focus of baseless conspiracy theories after the Nov. 4 election that they had manipulated vote totals in contested states. Those conspiracy theories were pushed by Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, serving as personal lawyers to former President Donald J. Trump, on Fox News, Mr. Trump’s longtime network of choice. Smartmatic, which says that the conspiracy theories destroyed its reputation and its business, provided election technology in only one county during the election.

also sued Fox News. Together, the two suits represent a billion-dollar challenge to the Fox empire, which, after Smartmatic filed its lawsuit, canceled the Fox Business program hosted by Mr. Dobbs.

“The filing only confirms our view that the suit is meritless and Fox News covered the election in the highest tradition of the First Amendment,” the network said in a statement late Monday.

Fox’s motion, as well as those of its anchors, argued that the mentions of Smartmatic were part of its reporting on a newsworthy event that it was duty-bound to cover: A president’s refusal to concede an election and his insistence that his opponent’s victory was not legitimate.

But the response Smartmatic filed on Monday, which runs for 120 pages, said that argument amounted to wishful thinking and that Fox had not covered the claims about Smartmatic objectively or fairly.

“The Fox defendants wedded themselves to Giuliani and Powell during their programs,” the brief said. “They cannot distance themselves now.”

Fox will have several weeks to respond to the brief, and a judge will eventually consider whether to allow Smartmatic’s case to proceed.

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Turkey Fights for Return of a Work It Says Was Looted

The marble idol was carved as many as 6,000 years ago, a 9-inch-tall female figure with a sleek, abstract form, its head tilted slightly upward as if staring into the firmament.

By the 1960s the idol had been transported to the United States, where it was in the possession of the court tennis star and art collector Alastair Bradley Martin and his wife, Edith, and known as “The Guennol Stargazer.”

Christie’s listed the stargazer for sale in 2017, drawing the attention of the Turkish government, which asked for the auction to be halted.

The Turkish government then sued Christie’s, saying the idol had been looted. The government asked the court to find that it is the rightful owner of the idol and cited the 1906 Ottoman Decree, which asserts broad ownership of antiquities found in Turkey. But the auction proceeded and the idol fetched a price of $14.4 million, before the unidentified buyer backed away.

agreed to return a collection known as the Lydian Hoard, which included more than 200 gold, silver and bronze objects from the reign of King Croesus of Lydia, a kingdom in western Asia Minor that flourished in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.

And in 2012, the government of Turkey asked museums in Los Angeles, New York and Washington to turn over dozens of artifacts it said were looted from the country’s archaeological sites.

It is generally accepted that the item at issue in the lawsuit originated in Kulaksizlar, the home of the only workshop known to have produced the stargazers. The figures were so-called because of the angle at which a large head rests on a thin neck, Christie’s said in an online description, creating “the whimsical impression of the figure staring up at the heavens.”

When the Guennol Stargazer was first listed for auction, Christie’s said it was “considered to be one of the most impressive of its type known to exist,” adding that it had been on loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at various periods from 1966 to 2007.

The Turkish government said that one of its witnesses, Neil Brodie, a senior research fellow in the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, would provide “comprehensive scientific evidence” for his conclusion that the idol was almost certainly found in Turkey.

for part of the Lydian Hoard. (The museum’s former director, Thomas Hoving, once referred to Klejman as among his “favorite dealer-smugglers.”)

Christie’s and Steinhardt have maintained that the Turkish government cannot prove ownership of the idol under the 1906 decree because it has “no direct evidence of where or when the Stargazer Idol was found, excavated or exported: it has no witnesses to the excavation or export and no photographs.”

The defendants also have said that Turkey knew about the presence of the idol in New York as early as 1992 but did not act on that knowledge.

“Turkey’s 25-year delay in making its claim baited the trap for dealers, collectors and auction houses,” defense lawyers said in court papers. “And set them up for huge losses when Turkey claimed the Idol only after it came up for sale at a major auction house.”

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Company Will Offer Refunds to Buyers of ‘Satan Shoes’ to Settle Lawsuit by Nike

A Brooklyn company that was sued by Nike over the unauthorized sale of Satan Shoes — an aftermarket sneaker that contains a drop of blood and was promoted by the rapper Lil Nas X — agreed on Thursday to accept returns of the footwear as part of a settlement.

The company, MSCHF, will offer refunds to people who want to return the sneakers under the terms of the settlement, according to Nike, which said in a statement that the purpose of the “voluntary recall” was to remove the shoes from circulation.

The settlement came a week after a U.S. District Court judge in Brooklyn granted Nike a temporary restraining order against MSCHF (pronounced mischief) after it sued the company last month.

A total of 666 pairs of the Satan Shoes were produced by MSCHF, which incorporated drops of its employees’ blood and ink into an air bubble in the Nike Air Max 97 sneakers. Each pair cost $1,018. They sold out in less than a minute last month.

“Luke 10:18” — a reference to the biblical passage that says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” — is printed on them.

A previous line of unauthorized Nike sneakers that MSCHF sold, which was named the Jesus Shoe and contained holy water, can also be returned for a refund, Nike said.

“In both cases, MSCHF altered these shoes without Nike’s authorization,” Nike said in a statement on Thursday. “Nike had nothing to do with the Satan Shoes or the Jesus Shoes.”

A lawyer for MSCHF did not dispute that the company had agreed to the voluntary buyback, but said on Thursday that he could not disclose the terms of the settlement.

music video for his song “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” in which he gyrates on Satan’s lap.

In the song, Lil Nas X, who was born Montero Lamar Hill, “cheerfully rejoices in lust as a gay man,” wrote Jon Pareles, the chief music critic for The New York Times.

Lil Nas X came out in 2019. The song’s title is an apparent reference to “Call Me by Your Name,” a novel about a clandestine summer romance between two men that was adapted into a film.

Mr. Bernstein said all but one pair of the Satan Shoes had been shipped to buyers before the temporary restraining order had been issued on April 1.

He described the sneakers, which are individually numbered, as works of art that represent the ideals of equality and inclusion. Mr. Bernstein said MSCHF had looked forward to arguing that its activities were covered under the First Amendment right of artistic expression.

“However, having already achieved its artistic purpose, MSCHF recognized that settlement was the best way to allow it to put this lawsuit behind it so that it could dedicate its time to new artistic and expressive projects,” he said.

Nike said it would not be responsible for any issues with sneakers that people decide to keep.

“Purchasers who choose not to return their shoes and later encounter a product issue, defect, or health concern should contact MSCHF, not Nike,” the company said.

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Electric Aircraft Start-Up Accuses Rival of Stealing Its Secrets

The age of electric planes may still be years away, but the fight for that market is already heating up.

Wisk Aero, a start-up developing an electric aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, on Tuesday sued another start-up, Archer Aviation, accusing it of stealing trade secrets and infringing on Wisk’s patents.

The lawsuit brings into public view a dispute between two little-known companies in a business that has become a playground for billionaires. It also entangles giants of aviation and technology. Wisk is a joint venture of Boeing and Kitty Hawk, which is financed by Larry Page, who co-founded Google. Archer’s investors include United Airlines, which is a major Boeing customer and plans to buy up to 200 aircraft from the start-up.

The niche market for electric vehicles and planes has become frenzied in recent months as so-called blank check companies, which have little more than a stock market listing and a pot of cash, have snapped up fledgling businesses with little or no revenue, let alone profits. Investors in the blank-check firms — formally known as special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs — are hoping to acquire businesses that they believe could follow Tesla’s recent trajectory on the stock market. To entice those investors, start-ups like Archer promise top-notch technology and optimistic business plans.

the lawsuit accuses two engineers of downloading thousands of files containing confidential designs and data before leaving Wisk to join Archer. Wisk accused a third engineer of wiping history of his activities from his computer before leaving for Archer.

“Wisk brings this lawsuit to stop a brazen theft of its intellectual property and confidential information and protect the substantial investment of resources and years of hard work and effort of its employees and their vision of the future in urban air transportation,” the lawsuit says.

Archer denied wrongdoing.

“It’s regrettable that Wisk would engage in litigation in an attempt to deflect from the business issues that have caused several of its employees to depart,” Archer said in a statement. “The plaintiff raised these matters over a year ago, and after looking into them thoroughly, we have no reason to believe any proprietary Wisk technology ever made its way to Archer. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously.”

Archer also said it had placed an employee accused in the suit on paid leave “in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant issued to the employee, which we believe are focused on conduct prior to the employee joining the company.” Archer said it and three employees who had worked with the individual had been subpoenaed in that investigation and were cooperating with the authorities.

accused one of its former employees and Uber of stealing trade secrets to gain an advantage in the race to develop autonomous cars. The companies settled the case in 2018, and the former Waymo employee, Anthony Levandowski, a onetime confidant of Mr. Page’s, was sentenced in 2020 to 18 months in prison. Former President Donald J. Trump pardoned Mr. Levandowski in January.

Archer announced its merger in February with a SPAC, Atlas Crest Investment, in a deal that valued the company at $3.8 billion. Wisk said its suspicions were confirmed at that time when Archer released a presentation that contained designs similar to those in a Wisk patent filing.

when announcing the transaction.

“We had 35, 40 people on this — and we attacked this like venture growth would or anybody else,” Mr. Moelis said. “And we did it fast, too.”

A spokeswoman for Moelis declined to comment.

Other companies trying to make electric aircraft include Joby Aviation, which announced a $6.6 billion deal with a SPAC led by the LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman in February, and the German start-up Lilium, which went public last month by merging with a SPAC led by a former General Motors executive, Barry Engle.

according to SPAC Research — more than in all of 2020.

But regulators and some investors say more scrutiny is needed. The Securities and Exchange Commission published two notices last month warning companies considering merging with SPACs to ensure that they are ready for all the legal and regulatory requirements being a public company entails. Many investors known as short sellers, who specialize in betting that share prices of companies are bound to fall, have targeted SPACs like Atlas Crest, which is among the 20 most-shorted SPACs.

The market for electric aircraft is in its infancy but holds huge promise. The prospect of “Jetsons”-like flying vehicles has inched closer to reality in recent years thanks to advances in battery and aircraft design. A high-stakes race to build the first viable electric plane is underway, and some airlines are betting that such vehicles can help them reach their goals of eliminating or offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions.

Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United, said the Archer aircraft were unlikely to be used for commercial flights but were ideal for short trips to and from an airport.

“They’re not only more environmentally friendly, they’re far quieter than a helicopter,” Mr. Kirby said Tuesday during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “And, because they have 12 rotors, they’re, I believe, going to ultimately be safer.”

Still, widespread use of electric air taxis is likely years away. Such aircraft may never become more than a luxury used by very rich people because businesses and governments may come up with far cheaper ways to transport people without emissions.

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Testing an Opaque Security Power, Michigan Man Challenges ‘No-Fly List’

“For over two years, I’ve tried to get off the no-fly list, but the government won’t even give me its reason for putting me on the list or a fair process to clear my name and regain my rights,” Mr. Chebli said in a statement released by the A.C.L.U. “No one should suffer what my family and I have had to suffer.”

The Justice Department had no immediate response to the lawsuit. But it has defended the legality of the government’s terrorism watch lists and its related practices in litigation over the past decade, arguing that the procedures are lawful and reasonable given the national security interests at stake.

Mr. Chebli’s case is a sequel to a major lawsuit by the A.C.L.U. during the Obama administration that challenged government procedures for reviewing whether it was appropriate to put someone’s name on the no-fly list. In 2014, a federal judge in Oregon ruled that those regulations were inadequate and violated Americans’ Fifth Amendment right to due process.

In response, the government promised to overhaul the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program to ensure that Americans would be told if they were on the list and given a meaningful opportunity to challenge the decision. (It also removed seven of the 13 original plaintiffs in that case from the no-fly list. Several remaining plaintiffs pressed on, but that judge, and later the appeals court in San Francisco, upheld the revised procedures as applied to them.)

Citing Mr. Chebli’s inability to obtain information about the government’s evidence about him or to challenge it in a hearing before a neutral decision maker, the new lawsuit said that the revised procedures are both unconstitutional and that they violate statutory law, including a federal law that protects religious liberty, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, because he is unable to travel to Mecca for the required Muslim pilgrimage.

“More than two years ago, Mr. Chebli filed an administrative petition for redress, but the government has failed to provide any reason for placing him on the no-fly list or a fair process to challenge that placement,” it said. “As a result, Mr. Chebli has been subjected to unreasonable and lengthy delays and an opaque redress process that has prevented him from clearing his name.”

Beyond the Oregon case, the new lawsuit takes its place among a constellation of related litigation that has tested the limits of the government’s terrorism watch-listing powers and individual rights.

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Doctors Accuse UnitedHealthcare of Stifling Competition

UnitedHealth directly competes with U.S. Anesthesia, according to the Texas lawsuit, through an ownership interest in Sound Physicians, a large medical practice that provides emergency and anesthesiology services. Sound Physicians is looking to expand in markets like Fort Worth and Houston, and U.S. Anesthesia claims in the lawsuit that its doctors were contacted by Sound Physicians “to induce them to leave” and challenge the noncompete provisions in their contracts to work with the United group.

The major insurer throws its weight around in other ways, the lawsuit claims. While the company’s Optum unit, which operates the surgery centers and clinics, is technically separate from the health insurer, the doctors accuse United of forcing its OptumCare facilities to sever their relationships with the anesthesiology group and pushing in-network surgeons to move their operations to hospitals or facilities that do not have contracts with U.S. Anesthesia.

“United and its affiliates have extended their tentacles into virtually every aspect of health care, allowing United to squeeze, choke and crush any market participant that stands in the way of United’s increased profits,” the doctors claim in their lawsuit.

It is standard practice, United said, for an insurer to encourage the use of hospitals and doctors within its network.

In contrast to many smaller physician groups that are struggling because of the pandemic, United has maintained a strong financial position, shoring up profits while elective surgeries and other procedures were shut down, resulting in fewer medical claims. So it has continued to expand, hiring more doctors and buying up additional practices. The company says it plans to add more than 10,000 employed or affiliated doctors this year.

The relationship between insurers and providers has become more complicated as more insurance carriers own doctors’ groups or clinics. “They want to be the referee and play on the other team,” said Michael Turpin, a former United executive who is now an executive vice president at USI, an insurance brokerage.

Employers that rely on UnitedHealthcare to cover their workers have a difficult time judging who benefits when insurers fail to reach an agreement to keep a provider in network. “This is just as much about profit as it is about principle,” Mr. Turpin said.

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Doctors Sue UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealth directly competes with U.S. Anesthesia, according to the Texas lawsuit, through an ownership interest in Sound Physicians, a large medical practice that provides emergency and anesthesiology services. Sound Physicians is looking to expand in markets like Fort Worth and Houston, and U.S. Anesthesia claims in the lawsuit that its doctors were contacted by Sound Physicians “to induce them to leave” and challenge the noncompete provisions in their contracts to work with the United group.

The major insurer throws its weight around in other ways, the lawsuit claims. While the company’s Optum unit, which operates the surgery centers and clinics, is technically separate from the health insurer, the doctors accuse United of forcing its OptumCare facilities to sever their relationships with the anesthesiology group and pushing in-network surgeons to move their operations to hospitals or facilities that do not have contracts with U.S. Anesthesia.

“United and its affiliates have extended their tentacles into virtually every aspect of health care, allowing United to squeeze, choke and crush any market participant that stands in the way of United’s increased profits,” the doctors claim in their lawsuit.

It is standard practice, United said, for an insurer to encourage the use of hospitals and doctors within its network.

In contrast to many smaller physician groups that are struggling because of the pandemic, United has maintained a strong financial position, shoring up profits while elective surgeries and other procedures were shut down, resulting in fewer medical claims. So it has continued to expand, hiring more doctors and buying up additional practices. The company says it plans to add more than 10,000 employed or affiliated doctors this year.

The relationship between insurers and providers has become more complicated as more insurance carriers own doctors’ groups or clinics. “They want to be the referee and play on the other team,” said Michael Turpin, a former United executive who is now an executive vice president at USI, an insurance brokerage.

Employers that rely on UnitedHealthcare to cover their workers have a difficult time judging who benefits when insurers fail to reach an agreement to keep a provider in network. “This is just as much about profit as it is about principle,” Mr. Turpin said.

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