Gibbons Law Alert Blog

Eleventh Circuit Eliminates Incentive Awards for Named Plaintiffs in Class Action Settlements

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upended what has become common practice in class action settlements by ruling that “incentive” awards to named plaintiffs are unlawful. In Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC, the plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) alleging that the defendant used an automatic telephone dialing system to call cell phones without the proper consent. Less than eight months after the complaint was filed, the parties jointly filed a notice of settlement for an award of $1,432,000. The District Court preliminary approved the settlement and certified the class for settlement purposes. In addition, that order permitted the plaintiff to petition the court to receive an amount not to exceed $6,000 “as acknowledgement of this role in prosecuting this case on behalf of class members.” The court also set a date for class members to opt out of the class settlement and a date three weeks later for class counsel to submit their petition for attorneys’ fees and costs. One person objected to the settlement on the grounds that (1) the objection deadline was set before the deadline for class counsel to file their attorneys’ fee petition, which she contended violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and the Due Process Clause; (2) the amount of...

Unnecessarily Opening Doors — the Southern District of California Provides an Important Reminder of the Value of FRE 502(d) Clawback Agreements

Highlighting numerous preventable mistakes that resulted in the unintentional waiver of attorney-client privilege, a recent Southern District of California decision reinforces the importance of comprehensive clawback agreements specifically pursuant to FRE 502(d) and (e) to prevent analysis of waiver under either FRCP 26 or the common law waiver standard embodied in FRE 502(b). This blog has previously addressed the interplay between Rule 502 and parties’ clawback agreements and recently discussed the limitations of FRE 502(d) and the inability of litigants to use it to compel production of potentially privileged information without a privilege review. In Orthopaedic Hospital v. DJO Global, Inc. and DJO Finance, LLC, the District Court found a waiver of the attorney-client privilege with respect to a privileged document introduced at deposition and the testimony elicited in connection with the privileged document due to the producing party’s failure to “promptly” rectify the inadvertent production under FRE 502(b). The court refused to find a broader subject matter waiver as a result of the introduction of this privileged document. Critically, the parties had proceeded with discovery without having negotiated, entered into, and sought Court approval of a clawback order under FRE 502(d), instead proceeding under a Rule 26 protective order that incorporated the common law clawback standard of FRE 502(b). As we have discussed in...

That Mine Is Yours, Not Theirs: Ninth Circuit Holds That WWII Shutdown Order Did Not Make Federal Government the CERCLA “Operator” of California Gold Mine

One perennially vexing issue for federal courts in cases brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund law, is what makes someone an “operator” of a facility, and thus strictly (and, in most cases, jointly and severally) liable for cleanup costs. In particular, what degree and nature of control over a facility exercised by the government make it an operator? (We recently blogged on this issue.) In its recent decision in United States v. Sterling Centrecorp Inc., a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit held that a World War II-era federal order that shut down a gold mine in California did not give the government sufficient control over the operations of the mine to make it a CERCLA operator. Upon entering World War II, the United States faced a serious shortage of nonferrous metals, especially copper, and a corresponding shortage of the machinery and materials needed to produce them. Scarce resources needed to be redirected from nonessential operations to essential ones, and gold mines, such as the Lava Cap mine in Nevada County, California, were deemed nonessential. An order of the War Production Board required the mine to cease operations in 1943. While the order was revoked in 1945, operations at the mine never resumed. It was...

New Jersey Issues Regulations Governing the Conduct of Remote Public Meetings, Effective Immediately

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Division of Local Government Services (“DCA”), has issued emergency regulations which, according to a recently issued notice, “establish standard protocols for remote public meetings held by a ‘local public body’ during a Governor-declared emergency, including minimum procedures to be followed to provide reasonable public notice and allowance for public input.” The DCA advises that the emergency regulations are presently in effect and have been concurrently proposed for permanent adoption in the upcoming October 19, 2020 New Jersey Register. Comments will be accepted through November 18, 2020. As we reported previously, soon after the declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency and the issuance of Executive Order 107, which restricted public gatherings, most governing bodies, planning boards, zoning boards of adjustment, and other public bodies in New Jersey initially canceled their meetings. Then, gradually, many began meeting remotely, relying on both existing statutory authority and emergency legislation to facilitate the conduct of electronic meetings, enacted as P.L. 2020, ch. 11 and codified in the Open Public Meetings Act at N.J.S.A. 10:4-9.3, which provides that during a declared emergency, a local public body may, using communication or other electronic equipment, conduct a meeting and any public business to be conducted thereat; cause a meeting to be open to the public;...

Gibbons Attorneys Draft NJSBA Amicus Brief Challenging Jury Selection in First In-Person Trial Since Pandemic

Lawrence S. Lustberg and Michael R. Noveck, Director and Fellow, respectively, of the John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest & Constitutional Law at Gibbons P.C., researched and drafted the amicus brief filed yesterday by the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA), challenging the jury selection process in the first in-person trial to resume in New Jersey since the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency was declared. Christine A. Amalfe, Chair of the Gibbons Employment & Labor Law Department and NJSBA Secretary and member of its Pandemic Task Force, arranged for the firm to handle the matter pro bono for the bar association. “As it has been doing for 30 years, the Gibbons Fellowship continues to tackle cutting-edge issues of justice and equality in our criminal courts,” said Patrick C. Dunican Jr., Chairman and Managing Director of the firm. “Fairness to the accused is paramount, even as courts face understandable difficulties as they try to return to normal operations while gradually emerging from the COVID crisis, which Larry and Mike argue very effectively in the NJSBA’s brief.” The matter at issue, State v. Dangcil, is a criminal trial in Bergen County that began last week. The NJSBA argued in the brief authored by Mr. Lustberg and Mr. Noveck that the jury management office exercised its own...

Insurer Alleges Pollution Policy Void Because of Policyholder’s Failure to Disclose

AIG Specialty Insurance Co. (“AIG”) recently asserted in a New Jersey Federal District Court Complaint that it owes no coverage to Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. (“Thermo Fisher”) for cleanup costs associated with contaminated groundwater at a facility owned by Thermo Fisher in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. The crux of AIG’s claim is the fact that Thermo Fisher failed to disclose to AIG that the company had been monitoring groundwater pollution at its site for nearly three decades. AIG alleges the existence of two consent orders relating to groundwater contamination at the site and, more specifically, the presence of PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” detected in a wellfield affected by the site. Both of these consent orders were in existence when Thermo Fisher sought a pollution liability policy with AIG. AIG asserts that Thermo Fisher either knew or should have known about the groundwater pollution conditions at its facility and the claims against the facility by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) prior to seeking the pollution liability policy at issue, facts that should have been disclosed in the application. AIG alleges that Thermo Fisher’s failure to disclose these consent orders and the fact that the Thermo Fisher plant was part of a Superfund site is sufficient to trigger a number of exclusions in the pollution...

The Risks of “Failed” Spoliation Efforts: The Southern District of New York Finds Severe Sanctions Available Under Rule 37(b)(2) and Inherent Authority for “Incompetent Spoliators”

We have previously blogged on the controversy regarding whether a court may still sanction a party for spoliation of ESI pursuant to its inherent authority following the amendments to Rule 37(e). But what happens when the attempted spoliation ultimately fails because the discovery is located and produced often after much unnecessary effort and expense by the requesting party? Abbott Laboratories v. Adelphia Supply USA involved just such a situation. The court’s decision reinforced that even when spoliation efforts are ultimately unsuccessful, and therefore Rule 37(e) does not apply because information is not “lost,” sanctions remain available under Rule 37(b)(2) and the court’s inherent authority to address litigant misconduct, including outright fraud on the court. This decision confirms that where improperly withheld documents are ultimately produced courts can “nevertheless exercise inherent authority to remedy spoliation under the circumstances presented.” CAT3, LLC v. Black Lineage, Inc., No. 14 Civ. 5511, 2016 WL 154116 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 12, 2016). Plaintiffs Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Diabetes Care Inc., and Abbott Diabetes Care Sales Corp. (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed a motion for case-ending sanctions against Defendants H&H Wholesale Services, Inc. (“H&H”), Howard Goldman, and Lori Goldman (collectively the “H&H Defendants”) based on electronic discovery-related violations of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. The court referred Plaintiffs’ motion to the Honorable Magistrate Judge Lois...

Non-Consensual “Quick Peek” Revisited: FRE 502(d) Cannot Be Used to Compel Production of Potentially Privileged Information Without a Privilege Review

The District Court for the District of Columbia recently confirmed that FRE 502(d) orders cannot be used to force a responding party to produce potentially privileged documents without the opportunity to first review them. In doing so, the court found that such an order would not only violate the producing parties’ right to determine in the first instance how it reviews and produces, but would potentially compel the production of privileged information and thus would constitute “an abuse of discretion.” In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. George Washington University, the EEOC filed a discrimination action on behalf of a former executive assistant against defendant, George Washington University, alleging that defendant’s former athletic director treated the former executive assistant less favorably compared to her male co-worker, a former special assistant. The discovery dispute concerned four requests for production of documents served by plaintiff: three seeking thousands of emails from the work accounts of defendant’s former athletic director and his two assistants; and one seeking information related to workplace complaints against the former athletic director. Defendant argued that plaintiff’s requests were overbroad and unduly burdensome—that is, that compliance with the requests would impose costs that were “not proportional to the needs of the case,” under the proportionality dictates of FRCP 26. By its decision, the court resolved...

Permit Extensions: Looming Deadline and Best Practices

The period within which to register development approvals for tolling or extension under the Permit Extension Act of 2020 (“Act”) concludes on October 8, 2020. Permits and approvals which are not timely registered by that date may expire without receiving the benefit of tolling afforded by the Act. We have detailed both the Permit Extension Act of 2020 and the recently published notices from various state agencies on our website. While the language of the Act as adopted, and the accompanying notices from the various state agencies, are not fully consistent with respect to what approvals are required to be registered, we wanted to pass along two key suggestions regarding how to best take advantage of the Act: Register All Approvals. We suggest to err on the side of registering all approvals – this means not only State agency permits, but also municipal land use approvals, agreements for sewerage capacity, water permits, construction permits, plan endorsements under the State Planning Act, and any approval for permits related to any development application. While the statutory language seemed to suggest that it was only state level permitting that would be subject to registration, it appears that NJDEP will be serving as a database and repository for all approvals – not just those of state agencies – and...

New Jersey Supreme Court Confirms Enforceability of Arbitration Agreements Concerning Transportation Workers Under the NJAA

In Colon v. Strategic Delivery Solutions, LLC and Arafa v. Health Express. Corp., plaintiffs contracted with corporate defendants to provide transportation and delivery services as independent contractors and signed arbitration agreements governing the terms and conditions under which they were to provide services. The agreements at issue explicitly referenced the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), but neither referenced the New Jersey Arbitration Act (“NJAA”). In both cases, plaintiffs brought claims in New Jersey Superior Court asserting they were misclassified as independent contractors and alleging violations of wage payment and wage hour laws, and in both cases, defendants sought to compel arbitration and dismiss the lawsuits. Both trial courts granted the respective employers’ motions to dismiss the claims and compel arbitration, and plaintiffs appealed these decision to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. As detailed in a prior blog post, in June 2019, different panels of the Appellate Division issued divergent holdings concerning the appeals. The Colon panel observed that both the FAA and NJAA “favor arbitration” as a way to resolve disputes, and that the NJAA “governs all agreements to arbitrate” entered into on or after January 1, 2003 (with limited exceptions that did not apply). It further found that the FAA “does not occupy the entire field of arbitration” and, therefore, the...