Gibbons Law Alert Blog

Inviting Scrutiny: “Obstructionist” Conduct Leads to District Court Ordering Forensic Examination of Defendant’s Cell Phone

Courts have been authorizing forensic experts to conduct examinations of electronic devices for decades. However, we have noticed a recent uptick of district courts ordering the appointment of an independent forensic expert to create images of and forensically examine cell phones to ensure the preservation and production of relevant electronic data particularly where the party in control of the evidence has been less than forthcoming in their discovery obligations. The District Court for the Southern District of Florida is one of the latest courts to order such a remedy, granting plaintiff’s motion to compel a forensic examination and ordering that an independent expert “mirror image and/or acquire all data present on Defendant’s cell phone.”

Reminder to Alcoholic Beverage Licensees: Annual TTB Filing Due July 1

Businesses that sell or serve alcoholic beverages, such as liquor stores, grocery stores, bars, and restaurants, not only must obtain the appropriate retail license within the jurisdictions in which they operate, but are also subject to Alcohol Dealer Registration with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) within the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This often overlooked registration requirement must be satisfied prior to commencement of alcoholic beverage sales, and any changes in the ownership of the business, business locations, and certain other information must be disclosed annually in a filing that is due July 1. The registration requirement arises from Title 26 of the United States Code (specifically, Subtitle E, Chapter 51 of the Internal Revenue Code) and applies to any “dealer,” which is defined in 27 CFR § 31.1 as “[a]ny person who sells, or offers for sale, any distilled spirits, wines, or beer.” Thus, retail dealers include liquor stores, restaurants, bars, private clubs, fraternal organizations, grocery stores, supermarkets, hotels, sports stadiums, caterers, trains, aircraft, and vessels. Wholesalers and importers are also included within the definition of “dealer.” Subject to certain exceptions, both retail dealers and wholesale dealers must comply with the applicable registration requirements. Registration entails filing TTB Form 5630.5d before engaging in business and on or before July 1...

Consumer Fraud Class Action Dismissed With Prejudice: Law Enforcement Tows Are Not Covered by the New Jersey Predatory Towing Prevention Act

On June 14, 2021, Judge Thomas J. Walsh of the Superior Court of New Jersey put an end to the long-running putative class action lawsuit in Kiley v. Tumino’s Towing, which sought to exploit regulations promulgated under the Predatory Towing Prevention Act (PTPA) by the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA). The action was removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, where the magistrate judge initially denied a motion to remand and permitted jurisdictional discovery, but the district court judge later remanded back to state court. Finally addressing the merits, the Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint, with prejudice, agreeing with Tumino’s Towing that the PTPA was not applicable to the towing services requested by law enforcement and performed in accordance with a duly-authorized municipal ordinance. As such, the plaintiff’s sole remaining cause of action for alleged violation of the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) could not stand. In Kiley, the complaint alleged that the plaintiff’s vehicle was towed by Tumino’s Towing, at the request of the Ridgefield Park Police Department, because his vehicle was illegally parked during a snow emergency. After paying his parking ticket at police headquarters, the plaintiff was given a vehicle release authorization, which he brought to Tumino’s Towing to obtain the release...

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...