Gibbons Law Alert Blog

NJDEP Posts List of Approvals Extended by Permit Extension Act of 2020

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), in its function as the repository for registering approval extensions under the Permit Extension Act of 2020 (“PEA2020”), codified at N.J.S.A. 40:55D-136.7, has posted the list of approvals which were registered by the October 8, 2020 deadline. There are actually two separate lists available from NJDEP, one consisting of permits issued by the NJDEP, and the other consisting of approvals issued by all other agencies. The second list encompasses a broad array of approvals including municipal and county planning board approvals, health department approvals, highway access permits, road opening permits, redevelopment agreements, soil conservation district certification, and a host of others. Both lists provide the name of the permittee, permitting agency, type of permit, and permit number. They are searchable by keyword. It appears that these lists are only inclusive of the approvals that have been granted extensions, and developers and permitted parties should review them carefully to confirm whether their approvals have been included. As reported previously, PEA2020 authorizes the extension of a wide variety of approvals, including, but not limited to, soil conservation district approvals, waterfront development permits, wetlands permits, CAFRA permits and center designations, septic approvals, municipal utility authority approvals, county and municipal planning board approvals, and a host of other municipal, county, regional,...

Situational Awareness Matters: Two Courts Evaluate Whether TAR Processes Are Warranted and Reach Very Different Conclusions

Two recent decisions from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (Lawson v. Spirit AeroSystems, Inc.) and the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Livingston v. City of Chicago), highlight the increasing prevalence of Technology Assisted Review (TAR) as an e-discovery tool and its role as an emerging source of discovery disputes. We have previously addressed courts that have “endorsed” the use of predictive coding and/or TAR and have recommended that litigants consider such technologies to promote efficiency in the discovery process. We have also noted that courts have been extremely hesitant to impose affirmative requirements upon litigants to use these technologies. As discussed below, these two recent decisions provide a useful analysis of situations – with vastly different outcomes – where a party has introduced TAR procedures into the discovery process. In Lawson v. Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., plaintiff, the former CEO of defendant Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., filed suit based on his claim that the defendant failed to properly disburse his retirement compensation. Defendant claimed that plaintiff violated a non-compete agreement by engaging in consulting services with one of its competitors during the two-year period subject to the restrictive covenant. Plaintiff refuted these allegations, claiming that the companies he serviced did not engage in the same business as defendant. Though the business...

NJDEP Solicits Input as It Begins Process of Drafting Regulations to Implement Landmark Environmental Justice Legislation

As we reported, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently signed the nation’s first environmental justice law, which seeks to address the unfair distribution of the environmental and public health impacts of polluting activities by imposing additional requirements on parties seeking to site, expand, or renew permits for various types of facilities in “overburdened communities,” which are defined in the statute in terms of economic and demographic criteria. The statute requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to promulgate regulations to implement its requirements. NJDEP began the public process of developing those regulations on October 22 when Olivia Glenn, Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity, and Sean Moriarty, Chief Advisor for Regulatory Affairs, hosted an online public information session in which they sought the public’s input on how the regulations should address numerous definitional and procedural issues. (The statute will not take effect until NJDEP promulgates its regulations.) Companies seeking to obtain or renew certain NJDEP permits for new or expanded facilities that fall within the statute’s scope and are located in overburdened communities must prepare an “environmental justice impact statement” and provide for expanded public hearings on their project. In addition to applying the requirements of other applicable statutes and regulations, NJDEP must then determine if the proposed new or expanded facility...

Sixth Circuit Holds Faxes Seeking Recipient’s Information Are a Pretext to Advertisement and Thus Within the Purview of the TCPA

The Sixth Circuit in Matthew N. Fulton, D.D.S., P.C. v. Enclarity, Inc., on remand from the Supreme Court, upheld its previous ruling that faxes seeking the recipient’s information are considered a “pretext” to an advertisement, and thus fall within the scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The June 19, 2020 decision relies upon a 2006 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Order stating that “any surveys that serve as a pretext to an advertisement are subject to the TCPA’s facsimile advertising rules.” The fax requested that the recipient verify or update its information with Defendant LexisNexis “for clinical summaries, prescription renewals, and other sensitive communications.” Plaintiff’s Complaint alleged that this constituted a pretext to send additional marketing materials to recipients, as well as obtain the recipient’s involvement in Defendant LexisNexis’s database. Plaintiff asserted that Defendants and third parties would use the recipient’s data to send information “regarding products, services, competitions, and promotions,” thereby constituting “a pretext to increase awareness and use of Defendants’ proprietary database service and increase traffic to Defendants’ website.” Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the fax did not constitute an advertisement as defined by the TCPA. The Michigan district court dismissed, finding that since the fax did not state that anything was available for purchase or sale, it “lack[ed] the commercial...

The DOL Amends FFCRA Paid Leave Rule

The United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (“DOL”) recently announced amendments to regulations regarding the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). By way of background, and as discussed in detail in our prior blog post, the FFCRA provides two types of leave to employees of covered employers (private employers with fewer than 500 employees and public employers of any size, with certain exceptions) – emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and expanded family and medical leave (EFML). An employee may be eligible for 80 hours of EPSL if he or she is unable to work or telework (without regard to the employee’s length of employment) if the employee: Is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19; Has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; Is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order, or has “been advised” to self-quarantine; Is caring for a child, because the child’s school or place of care has been closed (or the child’s care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons; or Is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health...

The End of LIBOR: Keeping Your Best Interest in Mind

The London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), which is the basis for the interest rates for millions of commercial real estate loans, is scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2021 according to the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR), which represents the cost of borrowing cash overnight collateralized by Treasury securities, is the likely successor to LIBOR in the U.S., but it is not yet a mandatory replacement. While many loan documents address the possibility of LIBOR’s unavailability, most loan documents fall into three categories. First, there may be language that converts the LIBOR component to the last LIBOR rate quoted, which would essentially convert a variable payment into a fixed payment. Second, some loan documents contemplate a more specific alternative (e.g., prime rate, SOFR, etc.) that could be a higher or more volatile rate than LIBOR, resulting in a potentially unplanned increase in borrowing costs. Finally, some contracts do not contain any alternative to LIBOR, which could lead to potential conflict, and even litigation, if the borrower and its lender fail to agree on an alternative rate prior to LIBOR’s unavailability. Borrowers and their counsel should review their existing loan documents that mature after 2021 to understand and plan for how their loan payments will be...

New Jersey Supreme Court Holds That CFA and PLA Claims Can Be Pleaded in the Same Action

In a recent decision answering a question certified to it by the Third Circuit, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that claims brought under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) may be brought in the same action as claims brought pursuant to the Products Liability Act (PLA), provided each claim is based on distinct conduct. In Sun Chemical Corporation v. Fike Corporation and Suppression Systems, Inc., the Court explained that it is the nature of the actions—not the resulting damages—that determines when claims may be brought under either the CFA or the PLA. The Court clarified that CFA claims may be brought in instances where a party alleges “express misrepresentations — deceptive, fraudulent, misleading, and other unconscionable commercial practices,” while PLA claims are reserved for claims based upon “product manufacturing, warning, or design defects.” The claims in Sun Chemical arose out of the plaintiff’s purchase of an explosion isolation and suppression system from the defendant to be used to “prevent and contain potential explosions” in the plaintiff’s new dust collection system. Plaintiff’s federal court complaint alleged that on the first day it used the suppression system, a fire broke out in the dust collection system and while the alarm in the suppression system was activated, it was inaudible. Plaintiff alleged that, as a result, several...

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...