Gibbons Law Alert Blog

Gibbons Director David J. Freeman Receives Distinguished Service Award From New York City Brownfield Partnership

David J. Freeman, a Director in the Environmental Group of Gibbons P.C., has been honored by the New York City Brownfield Partnership (NYCBP) as the 2021 recipient of the organization’s Distinguished Service Award. The Award promotes excellence in brownfield redevelopment each year by honoring an individual who has made a significant impact on brownfield redevelopment in New York City.

Timing Is Everything: SDNY Limits Relief for Plaintiffs Prematurely Seeking Serious ESI-Related Sanctions Under Rule 37(e)(2)

In DoubleLine Capital LP v. Odebrecht Finance, Ltd., the Southern District of New York issued a decision with important implications regarding the timing of spoliation motions and imposition of e-discovery sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e)(2). The decision highlights the challenges litigants face when seeking relief under this provision and, in particular, satisfying the onus to establish an “intent to deprive” the opposing party of deleted discovery. As this blog has previously discussed, the sanctions available under this subsection are available only in “egregious cases,” require a high evidentiary bar, and are highly dependent on timing and the proper development of a factual record. In this securities fraud case, the plaintiffs sought a mandatory adverse inference based on the claim that the defendants destroyed encryption keys needed to access the “MyWebDay” platform, an internal “shadow” accounting system used to track illicit bribe payments, which they contended contained evidence essential to the litigation. Despite ultimately admitting to destroying the encryption keys, the defendants argued that it was too early in discovery for the court to impose sanctions. Specifically, the defendants argued that spoliation sanctions would be inappropriate because the plaintiffs “have not (and cannot) demonstrate that the lost information cannot be replaced in discovery, and therefore have not shown that any relevant facts ‘have...

IRS Issues Guidance on an Employee’s Reduction in Hours and Involuntary Termination of Employment to Qualify for the 100 Percent COBRA Premium Subsidy

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 enacted on March 11, 2021 (the “Act”) provides a federally-funded, 100 percent subsidy for the premiums for COBRA continuation coverage from April 1, 2021 to September 30, 2021 for assistance eligible individuals. On May 18, 2021, the IRS issued Notice 2021-31, which provides comprehensive guidance on all aspects of the subsidy. The Notice is in the form of 86 questions and answers and spans 41 single-spaced pages. This news alert focuses on the guidance dealing with the two events that trigger entitlement to the subsidy: a reduction in hours and an involuntary termination of employment. The guidance on reduction in hours is found at Q&A 21 to 23, and on involuntary termination of employment at Q&A 24 to 34. Definition of Assistance Eligible Individual The Act defines an assistance eligible individual as an individual who: Is a qualified beneficiary for a period of COBRA continuation coverage that includes the months between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021; Is eligible for COBRA continuation coverage due to a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment other than for gross misconduct; and Elects COBRA continuation coverage. Other COBRA qualifying events, such as a voluntary termination of employment, a child’s aging out of dependent status, or divorce, do not...

No, That Doesn’t Settle It: U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Which Types of Settlements Trigger CERCLA Contribution Rights

The complex and overlapping nature of the three different routes to recovering cleanup costs under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) has bedeviled courts for decades. This month, in Territory of Guam v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court answered one very narrow question: What kind of a settlement with the government gives a settling party the right to bring an action for contribution against a non-settlor?

USEPA Relaunches Climate Indicators Website

In a press release issued on May 12, 2021, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced the relaunching of its climate change indicators website. The website is a valuable resource for land planners, scientists, policy makers, students, and the general public, providing extensive peer reviewed data gathered from more than 50 partners in governmental agencies, academic institutions, and other data collectors. The data, stretching over decades, is enhanced by interactive graphs, maps, trend analysis, and condition tracking tools.

“The Death Penalty Lives”: Magistrate Judge Recommends Entry of Default Judgment After Defendants Manipulate and Permanently Delete Electronic Data

This blog has previously discussed cases in which district courts considered and sometimes ultimately entered the so-called sanctions “death penalty” – a default judgment order of terminating sanctions, pursuant to Rule 37(e)(2), as a result of a party’s destruction of evidence. Recently, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas magistrate judge recommended granting terminating sanctions, i.e., default judgment, after finding that the defendants “delayed discovery, manipulated electronic data, and permanently deleted a significant amount of electronic data.” The magistrate judge noted that the deletions that occurred required the user to “go into the bowels of the system, requiring advanced knowledge,” and the electronic data was deleted “within days” of an agreed upon preliminary injunction. In Calsep Inc. v. Intelligent Petroleum Software Solutions, LLC, the plaintiffs alleged misappropriation of trade secrets after their employee, one of the defendants, left their employment and allegedly downloaded the plaintiffs’ trade secret information to a personal device. According to the plaintiffs, the former employee then used the trade secret information with the other defendants to develop oil and gas industry software to compete with the plaintiffs’ software. The plaintiffs attempted to obtain discovery, including specifically the defendants’ “source code control system, which ordinarily contains the complete, auditable, and accurate history of the creation and evolution of software...

NJDEP Amends Site Remediation Standards

Via a New Jersey Register notice published on May 17, 2021, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has amended the remediation standards that govern all cleanups in the state. It is the most sweeping revision of the standards since they were first adopted in 2008. NJDEP proposed the amendments in April 2020 and held a virtual public hearing on July 21, 2020. During an extended public comment period, NJDEP received more than 270 public comments on its proposal. The proposal itself was preceded by a series of stakeholder sessions stretching back to 2014. The rulemaking makes significant changes to the remediation standards, including: The creation of separate residential and non-residential soil remediation standards for the ingestion-dermal and inhalation exposure pathways; formerly, the applicable standard was the more stringent of the two, but now both pathways will need to be considered. The adoption of new soil remediation standards for the migration to groundwater exposure pathway, replacing the former site-specific approach based on NJDEP guidance with enforceable standards. The adoption of new standards for soil leachate (for the migration to groundwater exposure pathway) and indoor air (for the vapor intrusion exposure pathway); the vapor intrusion standards replace the former screening levels based on NJDEP guidance. The tightening of some standards and the loosening of others....

Show Me the Study: New Jersey Appellate Division Reverses Verdict in Talcum Powder Tort Case Because Causation Testimony of Plaintiffs’ Experts Had No Scientific Basis

Whether in environmental litigation (as we reported here) or in tort cases, expert testimony is often required to explain complex scientific concepts and, crucially, to establish a causal connection between exposure to a given substance and an adverse health or environmental effect. In its recent decision in Lanzo v. Cyprus Amax Minerals Company, the New Jersey Appellate Division reminded litigants of the importance of the court’s “gatekeeping” function when it tossed out a nine-figure judgment because the trial court had admitted testimony from the plaintiffs’ experts that lacked a proper scientific basis. The appellate court also held that the trial court had erred when it denied the motion for a separate trial of one defendant who was likely harmed by an adverse inference instruction that was required because of another defendant’s spoliation of important evidence. The plaintiffs, a husband and wife, had sued Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. (JJCI), Imerys Talc America, Inc. (Imerys), and a large number of other defendants in 2016, alleging that the husband had contracted mesothelioma from his use of JJCI’s talcum powder products. Imerys had acquired a business that supplied talc to JJCI in 2011. The key issues in the case were whether the talc used by JJCI contained asbestos, which is known to cause mesothelioma, and whether certain other...

Don’t Jump the Gun: The Northern District of California Compels the Production of Litigation Hold Letters, Holding Duty to Preserve Not Terminated When Related Lawsuits Were Resolved

In Thomas v. Cricket Wireless, LLC (“Thomas II”), Judge Tse of the Northern District of California compelled the production of defendant Cricket Wireless LLC’s litigation hold letters, despite the defendant’s privilege and relevance objections. The court compelled the production of such letters to allow the plaintiffs to investigate and possibly prove whether the defendant had engaged in spoliation of evidence in Thomas II and two similar class actions that were brought against the defendant. While the duty to preserve potentially relevant documents is generally terminated at the conclusion of a litigation, Thomas II reminds us that this duty may continue even after a related litigation is dismissed. The plaintiffs in Thomas II filed a putative class action alleging the defendant engaged in false advertisement related to its 4G/LTE coverage services. The defendant had already been sued in two prior lawsuits. In May 2015, different plaintiffs filed suit against the defendant on nearly identical claims in Barraza v. Cricket Wireless, LLC (“Barraza”) before Judge Alsup. Barraza was resolved when both named plaintiffs accepted the defendant’s offer of judgment for the full value of their claims. At a hearing before the dismissal, Judge Alsup asked whether there was “any scenario under which the merits of the case could come back to life” and whether there was “any kind...