Category: General Litigation

New Jersey’s Consumer Data Privacy Statute – What You Need to Know

On January 16, 2024, Governor Murphy signed S332 into law, making New Jersey the 13th state to enact legislation designed to protect the personal data of its residents. The law will become effective next year, on January 15, 2025, and imposes various obligations on a person or entity (designated as either a “controller” or a “processor”) that collects, discloses, processes, or sells the personal data of New Jersey consumers. The statute establishes various rights for New Jersey residents with respect to their own personal data and also provides consumers with the ability to opt out of disclosure and sale of their personal data in certain circumstances. Finally, the Division of Consumer Affairs has the authority to develop rules and regulations necessary to effectuate the purposes of the statute, and the Attorney General has sole and exclusive enforcement authority. The scope of S332 signed by the Governor was expanded significantly from prior versions. As late as December 17, 2023, the bill only applied to a person or entity that operated “any service provided over the Internet that collects and maintains personally identifiable information from a consumer.” The law enacted less than one month later, however, is not limited to collection of data over the internet; it applies to all “personal data” regardless of how it is...

Corporate Counsel Is Not Your Counsel: Communications Between Shareholders and Corporation Counsel Are Not Necessarily Privileged

You founded, own, and run your company. So, it is natural to assume that your company’s lawyer is your lawyer, right? While the assumption may be natural, the courts are firm in differentiating an attorney’s responsibilities to a corporation versus an individual shareholder. One who disregards this distinction may find that communications believed to be confidential and privileged are subject to discovery in later litigation. “A lawyer employed or retained to represent an organization represents the organization as distinct from its directors, officers, employees, members, shareholders or other constituents.” NJRPC 1.13(a). Shareholders of a closely held corporation are no exception to this rule and are not entitled to any presumption of privilege distinct from the corporate entity. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently emphasized this point in Royzenshteyn v. Pathak, where two shareholder-owners of a closely held corporation unsuccessfully appealed a trial court order that compelled production of allegedly privileged communications between the plaintiffs and corporate counsel. In Royzenshteyn, the plaintiffs retained corporate counsel for a transaction that transferred majority ownership of their corporation to the defendants. That transaction was completed in 2015. Soon thereafter, the parties’ relationship soured, and, in 2018, the plaintiffs retained new counsel to file a lawsuit that challenged the 2015 transaction. During discovery, the plaintiffs asserted attorney-client privilege over communications...

Is “Per Se” Getting in the Way? Use of That Term in Defamation Law

The twin branches of defamation consist of libel and slander. Libel is defamation by written words or by the embodiment of the communication in some tangible or physical form. Slander consists of the communication of a defamatory statement by spoken words or transitory gestures. Although attorneys, and even courts, sometimes refer to “defamation per se” as a third category of defamation, such reference is incorrect as it misunderstands the term “per se” in the defamation context. Properly understood in the context of slander, the phrase “per se” refers to four highly specific accusations that have traditionally been considered so clearly damaging to reputation that the damage element of the tort is deemed satisfied by the very utterance of the words: (1) accusing another of having committed a criminal offense (2) accusing another of having a loathsome disease (3) accusing another in a way that affects his/her business, trade, profession, or office (4) accusing a woman of being unchaste As to categories (3) and (4), the New Jersey Appellate Division later recharacterized them, respectively, as “accusing another of engaging in conduct, or having a condition or trait, incompatible with his or her business” and “accusing another of having engaged in serious sexual misconduct.” In the context of libel, “per se” refers to a writing that is...

Of All People…: DC District Court Hits Experienced Litigator Defendant With Terminating Sanctions for Failure to Preserve

In yet another cautionary tale displaying how seriously attorneys and clients must take discovery obligations, United States District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell entered a very rarely imposed default judgement against famed former U.S. Attorney and Mayor Rudy Giuliani for failure to preserve discovery in a defamation suit. Judge Howell’s opinion in Freeman, et al. v. Giuliani represents a blunt condemnation of discovery gamesmanship that is part of a growing number of cases that impose the most severe sanctions for failure to comply with preserving electronic evidence. In 2021, plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Wandrea’ ArShaye Moss brought suit against defendant Giuliani for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and punitive damage claims. In response to the plaintiffs’ first set of discovery requests, Giuliani – an attorney for over 50 years – served an “initial production of 193 documents [that was] largely a single page of communications, blobs of indecipherable data, a sliver of the financial documents.” After the plaintiffs’ repeated inquiries into his preservation efforts and the court’s intervention, Giuliani issued a sworn declaration providing that his only preservation effort was turning off the auto-delete function on a nondescript list of devices and social media and email accounts. Given Giuliani’s admitted “preference to concede plaintiffs’ claims rather than produce discovery in this case,”...

New Jersey Enacts Anti-SLAPP Legislation

Lawsuits filed to intimidate or punish those who are engaged in constitutionally protected activity by, in effect, suing them into submission or silence through the prospect of expensive and time-consuming litigation are commonly referred to as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP). On September 7, 2023, Governor Murphy signed New Jersey’s first anti-SLAPP legislation, which is designed to thwart such lawsuits by providing a process for early dismissal of these suits and an award of costs and counsel fees to a prevailing moving party. New Jersey now joins 32 other states that have enacted some form of anti-SLAPP legislation. The legislation applies to a civil cause of action against a person based on the person’s: (1) communications during a legislative, executive, judicial, administrative, or other governmental proceeding; (2) communications on an issue under consideration or review by such a body; or (3) engagement in any other activity that is protected by the First Amendment freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution or New Jersey Constitution and that relates to a matter of public concern. Modeled after the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act (UPEPA), the New Jersey legislation: permits a SLAPP defendant to file an early application for an order to show cause to dismiss the cause of action in whole or in part establishes a...

Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer: SCOTUS to Decide Whether Self-Appointed “Tester” Plaintiffs Have Standing to Sue Under the ADA

During its next term, the United States Supreme Court will review the First Circuit Court of Appeals’s holding in Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer that a self-appointed Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “tester” plaintiff has Article III standing to challenge a place of public accommodation’s failure to provide disability accessibility information on its website, even if the plaintiff has no intention of visiting that place of public accommodation. In this first review of an ADA Title III case in almost two decades, the Supreme Court will address an issue that has split the circuit courts across the country. The Supreme Court’s merits decision could have significant ramifications for ADA litigation that has been wildly proliferating in the Second Circuit and elsewhere for the past decade. By way of background, a DOJ-promulgated regulation – 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(e)(1)(ii) – provides that a “public accommodation” operating a “place of lodging” must “with respect to reservations made by any means … [i]dentify and describe accessible features in the hotels and guest rooms offered through its reservations service in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs.” In September 2020, Deborah Laufer, a self-proclaimed “tester” plaintiff who has filed more than 600 federal lawsuits under...

Let’s Not Just Chat About It: District Court Sanctions Google for Failing to Preserve Chat Messages in Antitrust Suit

In a highly anticipated opinion addressing allegations that Google failed to preserve relevant internal chat messages – despite assuring the court in a case management conference that it had – United States District Court Judge James Donato of the Northern District of California ordered Google to cover the plaintiffs’ legal costs in pursuing a Rule 37 motion and left open the possibility of the plaintiffs later pursuing nonmonetary sanctions. Judge Donato’s scathing opinion in In re Google Play Consumer Antitrust Litigation represents yet another cautionary tale for attorneys certifying that a client has taken appropriate steps to preserve all pertinent electronic discovery without providing meaningful oversight. While Judge Donato chose to focus his criticism (and ultimate sanction) on Google, he clearly was concerned with the lack of oversight and misleading representation by both Google and its attorneys. The Google cases arise from a highly publicized multidistrict litigation (MDL) involving allegations that Google Play Store’s practices were anticompetitive in violation of antitrust laws. The plaintiffs include several gaming companies, Attorneys Generals of 38 states (and the District of Columbia), and numerous consumer plaintiffs. The plaintiffs alleged that Google engaged in exclusionary conduct leading to Google monopolizing the Android app distribution market. After a long and tortured procedural history that included extensive discovery and motion practice, the...

Appellate Division Holds Settlement Reached at Voluntary Mediation Is Unenforceable in the Absence of a Signed Written Settlement Agreement

In Willingboro Mall, Ltd. v. 240/242 Franklin Avenue, LLC, a case decided 10 years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the confirmation of an oral settlement agreement that was made at a court-ordered mediation session. The court announced, however, that “going forward, a settlement that is reached at mediation but not reduced to a signed written agreement will not be enforceable.” In a recent, to-be-published decision, the Appellate Division held that Willingboro’s “broad, bright-line rule” requiring a signed written settlement agreement extends to voluntary mediations, too. The new case, Gold Tree Spa, Inc. v. PD Nail Corp., involved a dispute over the plaintiffs’ sale of two nail salons to the defendants. After the plaintiffs filed suit, the parties voluntarily agreed to mediation, resulting in the mediator’s creation of a draft settlement agreement. Several hours after the mediation ended, one of the plaintiffs decided she did not want to settle and refused to sign the agreement. The defendants moved to enforce the settlement, and the plaintiffs responded that they would honor the settlement agreement only if certain contingencies regarding an assignment of the lease of one of the salons could be met. The defendants then contacted the mediator to finalize the settlement agreement and circulated the lease assignment and related documents. The plaintiffs raised issues...

Delaware’s “Freedom of Contract” Approach to Non-Compete Agreements – Even Between Sophisticated Parties in the Sale-of-Business Context – Has Its Limits

Non-compete agreements have recently gained a new round of attention with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed rule that would effectively ban employers from imposing non-competes (albeit not in certain sale-of-business scenarios). While lawyers and businesses wait to see whether the FTC rule materializes, the nation’s most prominent business court – the Delaware Court of Chancery – recently issued two decisions demonstrating limits to its contractarian approach to restrictive covenants. Interestingly, both cases arose in the sale-of-business context, in which the court has traditionally enforced relatively broad restrictive covenants negotiated by sophisticated parties. In HighTower Holding, LLC v. Gibson (Vice Chancellor Will, Feb. 9, 2023), the court refused to enforce the parties’ Delaware governing-law provision and, instead, after performing a choice-of-law analysis, applied Alabama law to invalidate the non-compete. In Intertek Testing Services NA, Inc. v. Eastman (Vice Chancellor Will, Mar. 16, 2023), the court found a non-compete provision that prohibited the defendant from competing “anywhere in the world” to be unreasonably broad and, therefore, unenforceable. Delaware governing law provision rejected HighTower Holding, LLC v. Gibson. HighTower, a Delaware limited liability company, purchased a majority interest in an Alabama-based wealth advisory firm owned by Gibson, a licensed financial advisor, and other individuals. As part of the sale, Gibson and his former partners signed a protective agreement...