Gibbons Law Alert Blog

Fourth Circuit Revives Claim that Faxes Promoting Free Webinars are “Unsolicited Advertisements” Under the TCPA

Last month, the Fourth Circuit in Family Health Physical Medicine, LLC v. Pulse8, LLC, et al. revived Family Health’s putative class action, finding that it plausibly alleged facts sufficient to state a claim that the defendant’s fax invitation to attend a free webinar was an “unsolicited advertisement” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (the TCPA). In doing so, the Fourth Circuit revisited its recent holding in Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc. v. PDR Network, LLC that an “unsolicited advertisement” does not include offers or solicitations with no commercial component or purpose. Under that reasoning, a fax promoting a free webinar would seem not to fall within the TCPA’s definition of an “unsolicited advertisement.” However, because Family Health’s complaint alleged that the webinar was being used to market Pulse8’s healthcare coding technology, the court drew a reasonable inference that Pulse8 sent the fax hoping to persuade recipients to use its products. As a transmission of “information with a commercial nexus to the sender’s business,” the fax was therefore plausibly alleged to qualify as an advertisement. To survive a motion to dismiss, the Fourth Circuit continued, Family Health was not required to plead facts alleging the specific products or services that were promoted. Rather, it was reasonable to infer that a company that invites you to...

That’s a Wrap! United States Supreme Court Closes 2023 Term

With the close of the U.S. Supreme Court’s October 2023 term, we offer this round-up, focusing on decisions of special interest from the business and commercial perspective. Administrative In a pair of cases, Relentless v. Department of Commerce and Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, the Supreme Court overruled the deference doctrine first articulated in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. That doctrine permitted federal courts to adopt an agency’s reasonable interpretation of its originating statute. Now, federal courts must interpret statutes anew and are free to adopt their own interpretations. Though the Supreme Court did not overrule any cases that relied on Chevron’s deference framework, it invited the bar to challenge those decisions in the future. The impact of this case will be dramatic, as courts across the country will be reinterpreting (what used to be) settled understandings of countless statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Securities Exchange Act, and many more. In another administrative case, the Court in Corner Post, Inc. v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System held that the six-year statute of limitations for challenges under the Administrative Procedure Act accrues when a plaintiff suffers an injury from final agency action. That holding supplants the prior rule, which ended the statute of limitations six years after the...

DOL Issues Final Rule Increasing Salary Thresholds for Exempt Employees Under FLSA

On April 23, 2024, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) released a final rule that increased the salary thresholds for the executive, administrative, professional, and highly compensated employees exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The final rule, “Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales, and Computer Employees,” went into effect on July 1, 2024. The FLSA requires covered employers to pay employees a minimum wage and, for employees who work more than 40 hours in a week, overtime pay (at 1.5 times an employee’s regular rate).  However, the minimum wage and overtime requirements do not apply to employees who meet the requirements of the executive, administrative, or professional exemptions. One of the requirements of these exemptions is a minimum weekly salary. The final rule raised the minimum weekly salary to qualify for the exemption from $684 per week ($35,568 per year) to $844 per week ($43,888 per year) and, effective January 1, 2025, to $1,128 per week ($58,656 per year). Additionally, the final rule raised the annual salary threshold for the exemption for highly compensated employees from $107,432 per year to $132,964 per year and, effective January 1, 2025, to $151,164 per year.  The highly compensated employee exemption applies to certain highly compensated employees and combines an annual...

Non-Settling Insurers Now Have a Seat at the Bankruptcy Table

Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion1 in Truck Insurance Exchange v. Kaiser Gypsum Company, Inc., et al. (Case No. 22-1079) (“Kaiser Gypsum”). Reversing the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in In re Kaiser Gypsum Co., Inc., 60 F.4th 73 (4th Cir. 2023), the Court held that, pursuant to section 1109(b) of the Bankruptcy Code, “[a]n insurer with financial responsibility for a bankruptcy claim is sufficiently concerned with, or affected by, the proceedings to be a ‘party in interest’ that can raise objections to a reorganization plan.” In doing so, the Court rejected, as “conceptually wrong” and making “little practical sense,” the “insurance neutrality” doctrine that denies insurers the status of parties in interest in confirmation-related matters if the proposed plan neither increases the insurer’s pre-petition obligations nor impairs its rights under the insurance policies it has issued to the debtors. Kaiser Gypsum is an asbestos mass tort Chapter 11 case. A plan of reorganization (“KG Plan”) was confirmed on September 12, 2021. The KG plan provided, inter alia, for uninsured claims to be administered by an asbestos claims trust (“KG Asbestos Trust”), while insured claims were to be resolved through the tort system and paid (less a small deductible) by the debtors’ primary liability insurer,...

Reminder to Alcoholic Beverage Licensees: Annual TTB Filing Due July 1, 2024

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 of each...

A Landmark Step: EPA Designates PFOA and PFOS as Hazardous Substances Under CERCLA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement on April 19, 2024, of its final rule designating perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), marks a significant moment in environmental regulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). At the same time, the EPA released a new PFAS Enforcement Discretion and Settlement Policy under CERCLA (“Enforcement Policy”). These two announcements have wide-ranging implications for Superfund cleanups, development projects, public health, and the scope of environmental liability under CERCLA. The Persistent Threat of “Forever Chemicals” PFOA and PFOS belong to the PFAS class, a large group of man-made chemicals known for their exceptional resistance to degradation. These chemicals have been widely used since the 1940s in countless industrial applications and consumer products. Their unique chemical structure makes them highly effective in repelling water, oil, and stains. However, this same property also makes them incredibly persistent in the environment, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” Over time, PFAS have infiltrated various environmental media, including soil, water, and air. Extensive research over the past few decades has linked PFAS exposure to a range of human health problems, including: Certain cancers, particularly testicular and kidney cancers Liver damage Increased cholesterol levels Thyroid issues Developmental problems in infants and children, including low birth...

“Pharma Bro” Avoids the Most Serious Adverse Inference Sanction for Spoliating Evidence Under Rule 37(e)

In an opinion out of the Southern District of New York addressing alleged spoliation of ESI, Judge Denise Cote found that the plaintiffs – the Federal Trade Commission and a collection of states – only sufficiently established half of their spoliation claims sought against defendant Martin Shkreli. Shkreli, aka “Pharma Bro,” and his business partner, Kevin Mulleady, launched Vyera in 2014. The plaintiffs alleged that in November 2017 Vyera entered into several anti-competitive agreements, including exclusive supply agreements, with a company preparing to seek FDA approval for the manufacture of the active ingredient in one of Vyera’s branded drug products. The plaintiffs sought sanctions under Rule 37(e) against Shkreli, alleging he failed to preserve messages on two cellphones despite receiving a litigation hold in late 2015. The first phone – a company-issued phone – was allegedly used by Shkreli to communicate about issues relevant to the case. When Shkreli’s attorney sent the company phone to be forensically imaged in April 2020, it was discovered that it had been factory reset (i.e., wiped) sometime in 2016 or 2017. While neither Shkreli nor Vyera produced communications from this phone, Vyera represented that company-issued phones were backed up to iCloud. The second was a contraband phone Shkreli appeared to have possessed while in prison. A Vyera executive testified...

Effective March 20, 2024: New Flood Hazard Disclosure Requirements on New Jersey Property Sellers and Landlords

As previously reported, a new statute concerning real property and flood notifications in New Jersey was enacted on July 3, 2023. The new law, which amends the New Jersey Truth-in-Renting Act (P.L. 2001, c.313) and supplements the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (NJCFA) (P.L. 1960, c.39), applies to the sale and exchange of all residential and commercial property, as well as to all residential and commercial lease transactions, with certain exceptions. Effective March 20, 2024, New Jersey law now requires that all sellers of commercial or residential real property and all landlords entering into or renewing any commercial or residential leases disclose, in writing, the below enumerated flood risk information with respect to the subject property. New Seller Flood Disclosure Requirements For sales, the statute supplements the NJCFA, to require all sellers of real property to disclose, on the Property Condition Disclosure Statement (the “Disclosure Statement”) promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, whether the property is located in the FEMA Special or Moderate Risk Flood Hazard Area and any actual knowledge of the seller concerning flood risks of the property. The Disclosure Statement’s relevant flood disclosures are listed as questions 109-117. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 56:8-19.2, all sellers of real property, regardless of whether such property is residential or commercial, must answer the...

Generative AI in USPTO Practice: Key Considerations Under the USPTO’s New Guidance

Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Anthropic’s Claude, Midjourney and others, have made waves across various industries and the legal profession is no exception. Specialized publications and recent news are replete of examples of professionals in all fields increasingly turning to these tools to streamline their work. However, the use of generative AI in legal practice also raises special concerns about the potential for errors, bias, and ethical violations. In recent high-profile cases, the use of ChatGPT by attorneys came under scrutiny when their court filing were found to contain false statements and references to non-existent legal authorities. In one case, two lawyers were sanctioned for submitting non-existent AI-generated judicial opinions with fake quotes and citations, without properly verifying the accuracy of such citations. See Mata v. Avianca., No. 22-CV-1461 (PKC), 2023 WL 4114965 (S.D.N.Y. June 22, 2023). This incident highlights the need for lawyers to exercise caution and maintain human oversight when using generative AI tools. Building upon the growing awareness of the pervasive use of generative AI, and its gradual adoption in the legal profession, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has taken steps to address the use of AI tools in practice before the agency. In February 2024, USPTO Director Katherine K. Vidal issued a memorandum to...