Gibbons Law Alert Blog

Former Gibbons Director Shawn LaTourette Named NJDEP Acting Commissioner

Shawn LaTourette, formerly a Director in the Environmental Department at Gibbons P.C., has been named Acting Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), as announced by New Jersey Governor Murphy earlier today. Mr. LaTourette previously served as NJDEP Chief Counsel. Mr. LaTourette joined Gibbons in 2015 as an associate and was promoted to Director in 2018, prior to joining the NJDEP. At Gibbons, his practice focused on environmental and closely related legal fields, in both litigation and transactional settings involving environmental conditions, land use, and development. He helped clients across various industries manage compliance with and enforcement of state and federal environmental and land use laws, including their application to commercial, real estate, construction, and infrastructure transactions. At Gibbons, Mr. LaTourette was the firm’s go-to lawyer to handle all environmental aspects of our clients’ real property acquisitions, developments and redevelopments, and construction projects, which included some of the most high-profile real estate, construction, and infrastructure matters in New Jersey. “When he was here, all of us at Gibbons recognized that Shawn was a rising leader in the environmental bar in New Jersey and throughout the region,” said Patrick C. Dunican Jr., Chairman and Managing Director of the firm. “We are delighted to congratulate him on proving us right.” For an article on...

CREMA Provides the Framework for the Regulated Recreational Cannabis Industry in New Jersey, but Disincentivizes Businesses From Seeking to Achieve Certain Legislative Goals

In November 2020, New Jersey voters passed the referendum to add an amendment to the State Constitution for the legalization of recreational cannabis by a resounding margin of 2 to 1. The amendment went into effect as of January 1, 2021; however, implementation and the establishment of the legal recreational cannabis market requires further legislative and regulatory action. As the first step in this process, the State Assembly and Senate each passed the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (“CREMA”). CREMA is the result of tireless legislative negotiation that began well before the November 2020 vote. The end result includes provisions aimed at public policy and social justice considerations, and at creating a competitive business marketplace. For example, under CREMA, the Legislature takes effort to address the disproportionate negative impacts that cannabis prohibition has had on Black New Jerseyans and other minority communities. With the goal of promoting social equity and redressing the historical impact of unequal application of drug laws on minority communities, CREMA provides priority for license applications to businesses located in “impact zones,” which are defined as municipalities that have a population of 120,000 or more or that rank in the top 40 percent for cannabis-related arrests, and mandates that at least 70 percent of tax revenue on...

FFCRA Benefits Become Optional and Unemployment Benefits Change With New Stimulus Package

On December 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the fourth major COVID-19 response bill into law. The stimulus package includes focused relief in a variety of areas (see our December 21, 2020 post), but two important elements are worth highlighting for employers. First, there have been several changes to pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits since guidelines were first provided last spring. Second, the emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave benefits provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), explained here, expired on December 31, 2020 and were not extended, but employers who opt to offer them remain eligible for tax credits. Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits Supplement and Extension The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) provided eligible recipients of state unemployment benefits with an additional $600 per week in federal benefits, which expired in July 2020. The new stimulus package provides eligible individuals who are already collecting state-provided unemployment benefits with an additional $300 per week in federal benefits ($300 less than the last stimulus relief package) for up to 11 weeks through March 14, 2021. These payments, however, are not retroactive to July 2020. The new stimulus package also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs. PUA provides benefits to individuals...

Governor Murphy Signs New Economic Incentive Legislation

Governor Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020 (NJERA), opening a new chapter in the Murphy Administration’s efforts to incentivize businesses to invest in New Jersey and to assist the State in recovering from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. NJERA’s enabling legislation, almost 250 pages long, creates new economic development programs, amends existing programs, and makes operational changes to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA). New Incentive Programs NJERA 2020 creates nine new incentive programs: The Historic Property Reinvestment Program provides tax credits for part of the cost of rehabilitating historic properties in this State. Tax credits under this program are capped at $50 million annually for six years. Qualified historic properties potentially eligible for tax credits include those designated on the National Register of Historic Places or the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, by the Pinelands Commission, or by municipalities under certain criteria approved by the State Historic Preservation Officer. The Brownfields Redevelopment Incentive Program provides tax credits to compensate developers for remediation costs of redevelopment projects located on brownfield sites. Tax credits under this program are capped at $50 million annually for six years. Brownfield sites include any former or current commercial or industrial site that is currently vacant or underutilized and on which there...

The Corporate Transparency Act: Understanding New Federal Reporting Requirements of Company Ownership

New anti-money laundering legislation was included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) enacted by Congress on January 1, 2021 through the override of a presidential veto. The NDAA is a series of federal laws primarily specifying the annual budget and expenditures of the United States Department of Defense. The NDAA for Fiscal Year 2021 includes the expansive Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (AMLA) with the purpose of updating and amending the country’s anti-money laundering laws. It has long been acknowledged that the United States lags behind other developed countries in its safeguards designed to prevent the flow of illicit money—so much so that the Tax Justice Network, an independent institution that indexes countries’ financial secrecy, currently ranks the United States as the second most financially secretive jurisdiction, ranking behind only the Cayman Islands and just ahead of Switzerland1. Together with the AMLA, Congress also enacted the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), which directs the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to establish and maintain a national registry of beneficial owners of entities that are deemed “reporting companies.”2 In so acting, Congress stated that bad actors seek to conceal their ownership of business entities through the use of shell companies in order to facilitate illicit activities including money laundering, the financing of terrorism,...

Cafeteria Plan Provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the “CAA”) provides employers with the ability to adopt optional relief provisions for participants in cafeteria plans with healthcare and dependent care flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”). These provisions are aimed at preventing forfeiture of unused account balances at the end of the 2020 and 2021 plan years. The unused amounts have often arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic triggering extended medical provider, school, and daycare closures, and remote work arrangements. Grace Period Extensions and Unlimited Carryover Amounts The CAA provides employers with two options for the use of leftover FSA amounts. First, an employer can extend the grace period to use these amounts in the following plan year from two months and fifteen days to twelve months after the end of the plan year. Accordingly, unused FSA amounts as of the end of the 2020 plan year may be used for qualifying medical and dependent care expenses through the end of the 2021 plan year, and unused FSA amounts as of the end of the 2021 plan year can be used for qualifying medical and dependent care expenses through the end of the 2022 plan year. It is important to note that participants cannot contribute to health savings accounts while healthcare FSA funds are available during a grace period. Thus,...

EEOC Injects Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccine Practices in the Workplace

In the wake of the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressed a question weighing heavily on the minds of businesses and their employees: can an employer require its employees to get vaccinated? The EEOC’s December 16, 2020 guidance answered that question in the affirmative, but, as with most pronouncements during the pandemic, the issue is far from simple, and employers must pay close attention to what the guidance says, and what it does not say, when crafting their COVID-19 vaccination policies. The EEOC Guidance characterizes an employer-mandated vaccine as an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-permitted, safety-based qualification standard, akin to “a requirement that an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.” Employers can require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but must allow for exceptions where employees are unable to receive the vaccine because of either disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs. Employees with Disabilities: Where a mandatory vaccination policy would screen out an individual with a disability, the employer must show that the unvaccinated employee would pose a direct threat in the workplace due to a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or...

Pushing the Limit: The District of Oregon Concludes that the Attorney-Client Privilege May Apply to Communications Not Involving Attorneys

In Ozgur v. Daimler Trucks N. Am. LLC, Judge Mosman, from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, found that certain emails in the possession of Daimler Trucks North America LLC (“Daimler”) and that were sought by plaintiff were protected by the attorney-client privilege, as the communications were made for the purpose of obtaining legal advice, despite some of the emails not including an attorney as an author or recipient. In this action, plaintiff filed suit against Daimler for age discrimination in connection with his unsuccessful job application for a position opening posted by Daimler. The position that Daimler posted was already held by a foreign national whom Daimler sought to sponsor for a H1B1 visa so that he could remain in his position. In order to sponsor its employee, Daimler had to advertise the position and establish that there were no U.S. citizens who were willing and able to perform the position, then submit such proof to the Department of Labor. To assist in complying with the Department of Labor and immigration laws, Daimler retained outside immigration counsel. The emails disputed in this proceeding were communications involving outside counsel and Daimler employees, including a recruiting manager and a hiring manager. In determining whether the disputed emails were privileged, the court stated...

Congress Reaches Agreement on Additional COVID-19 Relief

On Sunday, December 20, 2020, Congressional leaders announced an agreement on a fourth major COVID-19 response bill. Although the legislative language is being finalized, statements from the parties involved in negotiations indicate the agreement includes focused relief for businesses, individuals, and families. For businesses: Expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The proposal includes more than $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans. PPP will now be accessible to nonprofits, local newspapers, TV, and radio broadcasters. Dedicated PPP set-aside for small businesses and lending through community-based lenders like Community Development Financial Institutions (and Minority Depository Institutions). $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. $20 billion for additional grants under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Provision of a tax credit to support employers offering paid sick leave. Extension and improvement of the Employee Retention Tax Credit. $82 billion in funding for colleges and schools, including support for HVAC repair and replacement to mitigate virus transmission and reopen classrooms. For individuals and families: A new round of direct payments worth up to $600 per adult and child. $25 billion in rental assistance for families and an extension of the eviction moratorium. Enhancement of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to increase affordable housing construction and provide greater...

District Court Denies Protective Order in Putative Class Action: Production of Relevant ESI May Be Time Consuming and Expensive, But Not Unduly Burdensome

The District Court for the Eastern District of California recently denied a defendant’s motion for a protective order in a putative class action, finding that the information requested by plaintiff was relevant and subject to pre-certification discovery, and that defendant did not show that the electronically stored information (ESI) was inaccessible due to undue burden or cost, pursuant to Rule 26(b)(2)(C). Additionally, the court determined that even if defendant could show that the ESI was “inaccessible,” plaintiff demonstrated “good cause” to order production of the ESI notwithstanding the potential burden and cost. In Sung Gon Kang v. Credit Bureau Connection Inc., plaintiff, a consumer, filed a putative class action alleging that defendant provided businesses with inaccurate consumer credit information, including that plaintiff and the proposed class of consumers were included on the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list. A consumer is ineligible for credit in the United States if he or she is included on the list. Plaintiff sought to “represent classes consisting of individuals ‘about whom Defendant … sold a consumer report to a third party’ that included an OFAC Hit.” The discovery dispute centered on defendant’s objections to plaintiff’s first set of written discovery requests. Specifically, defendant objected to requests seeking the identities of individuals who had an...