Tagged: Contracts

Colorado Is the Latest State to Enact a Data Privacy Law: Here’s What You Need to Know

Colorado has become the third state to enact a comprehensive data privacy statute imposing compliance obligations on legal entities that collect or process the personal data of its residents. The Colorado Privacy Act (CPA) is based on and enforces many of the same key concepts as do other data privacy statutes and regulations. As such, companies that are implementing or updating compliance programs for the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), and Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA) will be familiar with the main provisions of the CPA and likely will have an easier time achieving compliance. There are, however, some important distinctions that companies must consider as part of any ongoing compliance efforts in anticipation of the CPA’s effective date of July 1, 2023. As a threshold matter, the CPA applies to legal entities that (i) conduct business in Colorado or produce or deliver commercial products or services that are “intentionally targeted to residents of Colorado,” and (ii) either (a) control or process personal data of more than 100,000 consumers per year or (b) earn revenue (or receive a discount on goods or services) from the sale of personal data and control or process personal data of more than 25,000 consumers. Notably, the CPA...

Beyond Force Majeure: Government Quarantine Orders May Themselves Excuse Contract Non-Performance

The coronavirus pandemic is reverberating throughout commercial sectors, and countless contract obligations are going unperformed—shipments are not being made or accepted, payments are being missed, and contract milestone dates are lapsing every week that the pandemic and business shutdown continues. Those typically rare force majeure provisions are now being scrutinized. (For more on those topics, see previous entries in our COVID-19 “The Coronavirus Pandemic and Your Business: How We Can Help” client alert series, including “Litigation Issues That May Arise.”) And, in New Jersey, the precise language of such a clause is key, as courts in this state have held that they should be “narrowly interpreted as contemplating only events or things of the same general nature or class as those specifically enumerated.” Seitz v. Mark-O-Lite Sign Contractors, Inc., 210 N.J. Super. 646 (N.J. Sup. Ct. Law Div. 1986). With only some force majeure clauses including explicit references to pandemics, or broadly-worded “catch-alls,” the success of a force majeure defense is not necessarily certain. But before (or in addition to) attempting to invoke that force majeure provision, consider whether a court would ultimately determine that contractual non-performance is due to an “Act of God” or rather is being caused by the governmental orders quarantining segments of the population and/or shutting down whole swaths of the...

Force Majeure Provisions in Contracts

No one is able to predict how the coronavirus situation will play out or precisely how each of us might be impacted or for how long. It is possible your ability to perform various contractual obligations will be delayed. Many contracts protect parties against an inability to perform due to uncontrollable circumstances, at least in some situations, by inclusion of a so-called force majeure provision. This provision excuses certain behavior in certain situations determined to be beyond the control of the party failing to perform. Obviously, the text of the particular provision is critical to understanding what it says. We are writing to alert you that many force majeure provisions include a mandatory notice provision. If you don’t provide the required notice, you are estopped from raising force majeure as a defense against a claim arising out of your failure to perform. So if the coronavirus pandemic is interfering with your ability to perform contractual obligations, we urge you to review your contracts and deliver any required notices so as to protect yourself to the extent possible, and if your contract mandates that any other steps be taken to preserve the defense, take those steps as well. Gibbons stands ready to assist with these concerns. If you have any questions regarding force majeure provisions in...

Governor Murphy Signs Bill Making Nondisclosure Provisions Unenforceable and Against Public Policy

On Monday, March 18, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill No. 121, which makes nondisclosure provisions in employment contracts or settlement agreements that are intended to conceal the details of claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment unenforceable and against public policy in New Jersey. Section 1 of the new law warns that a “provision in any employment contract that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” is against public policy and unenforceable.” The law does not define “employment contract” and leaves open to interpretation whether it applies to all agreements between employer and employee, whether an employment agreement, a separation agreement, or a settlement agreement. The prohibition on waiving any procedural right would make arbitration agreements, which by their nature waive the right to a jury trial, also invalid and unenforceable in contravention of the Federal Arbitration Act and recent United States Supreme Court precedent. An immediate challenge to this aspect of the law is likely since it casts doubt on all arbitration agreements between an employer and employee that seek to include claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Section 1 also prohibits a prospective waiver of any right or remedy under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) or any other statute or...

New Jersey Supreme Court Expands Reach of the Consumer Fraud Act to Include Customized Merchandise

Relying on the remedial purpose of the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), the New Jersey Supreme Court recently held that customized merchandise falls within the reach of the CFA. In All the Way Towing, LLC v. Bucks County International, Inc., plaintiffs, an individual and his limited liability towing company, entered into a contract with defendants for the purchase of a medium-duty 4×4 truck to be customized with an autoloader tow unit to meet plaintiffs’ particular needs. After the manufacturer attempted delivery on four occasions of a tow truck with significant problems, plaintiffs believed the situation to be “hopeless,” rejected delivery and demanded return of a $10,000.00 deposit. The manufacturer refused return of the deposit. Plaintiffs then brought suit for, among other things, violation of the CFA. The trial court granted summary judgment to the manufacturer on all claims, holding in pertinent part that a customized “tow truck was not something available ‘to the public for sale’” under the CFA. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the line of cases that excluded “complex” goods or services from CFA claims was not applicable here because there was no showing that the tow truck at issue was any more “complex” than any other tow truck. Defendants then appealed, arguing that the CFA does not apply to transactions concerning custom-made...

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

In Roman v. Bergen Logistics, LLC, the Appellate Division recently held that a plaintiff was required to arbitrate her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation with her former employer. The court also held, however, that the arbitration agreement’s contractual provision that barred the employee’s access to punitive damages was unenforceable. Background Plaintiff Milagros Roman was hired by the defendant, Bergen Logistics, as a human resources generalist. She signed an arbitration agreement at the outset of her employment. In addition to requiring Roman to arbitrate any and all claims related to her employment, the arbitration agreement compelled her to waive any claim for punitive damages. After her termination, Roman filed a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that her former supervisor sexually harassed her, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The defendants moved to dismiss Roman’s complaint and compel her to arbitrate her claims. The Law Division found that Roman knowingly signed the arbitration agreement and that the agreement contained an unambiguous waiver of claims for punitive damages. Accordingly, that court held that Roman was required to submit her claims to arbitration and could not seek punitive damages. Roman timely appealed. The Appellate Division’s Decision The Appellate Division held that the arbitration...

Third Circuit Holds Anti-Assignment Clauses in ERISA Plans Are Enforceable

The Third Circuit, in a decision that may limit the remedies available to medical providers in the event of non-payment, recently clarified that “anti-assignment clauses in ERISA-governed health insurance plans as a general matter are enforceable.” In so holding, the Third Circuit joins all other circuit courts that have addressed the issue. On the basis of that clause, the Court held that the plaintiff out-of-network health care provider seeking reimbursement for a participant’s medical claims lacked standing to pursue the claim against the insurers on the participant’s behalf. In October 2015, the plaintiff provider performed shoulder surgery on a patient who was covered by an ERISA-governed health-insurance plan. In billing the individual for the procedure, the provider – because it was not part of the plan’s provider network – charged amounts that far exceeded the plan’s reimbursement limits for the surgery. The plan’s insurers applied its out-of-network limit in processing the claim and reimbursed only a fraction of the total amount charged. The provider appealed the claim on the patient’s behalf. At the same time, the provider had the patient sign an assignment-of-benefits form which assigned to the provider the patient’s right to pursue claims under his health-insurance plan for the surgery. The insurers denied the appeal, and the provider sued alleging ERISA violations. The insurers...

New Jersey Senate Labor Committee Amends Bill Prohibiting Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Employment and Settlement Agreements

In response to the recent spotlight on sexual abuse and harassment claims in the workplace and the #MeToo movement, the federal government and numerous states, including New Jersey, have focused attention on the use of nondisclosure provisions in settlement agreements involving claims of sexual harassment and assault. As we previously reported, the Tax Cuts and Job Bills Act was passed in December 2017 and includes a provision that bars any settlement or payment related to claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse from being deducted as a business expense if the payments are subject to a nondisclosure agreement. While the federal tax bill aims to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements, the proposed New Jersey legislation initially provided an outright ban on such agreements. At the time of its first introduction during the prior legislative session in December 2017, Senator Loretta Weinberg’s proposed bill prohibited New Jersey employers from including “a provision in any employment contract or agreement which has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.” The bill is unique because it is not limited to sexual harassment or abuse claims, but rather would apply to any type of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claim under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. Senator Weinberg’s bill was reintroduced...

SDNY Expands Interpretation of “Possession, Custody, or Control” – Orders Adverse Inference Against Company for Spoliation of Text Messages by Non-Party, Independent Contractor on Personal Phone

In Van Zant, Inc. v. Pyle, et al., 270 F. Supp. 3d 656 (S.D.N.Y. 2017), the Southern District of New York ordered an adverse inference against Los Angeles-based Cleopatra Entertainment LLC (“Cleopatra”), based on the conduct of its independent contractor and non-party to the case, Jared Cohn (“Cohn”). Cohn had been hired by Cleopatra to write and direct a motion picture about the 1977 plane crash that killed two members of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. During the film’s production, Cleopatra and Cohn enlisted the aid of Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle (“Pyle”), who, along with other surviving band members (and the estates of deceased members), was party to a 1988 Consent Order that set limits on the permissible use of the Lynyrd Skynyrd name; the likenesses, names, and biographical material of its members; the band’s history; and related items. The Consent Order also detailed the respective parties’ rights to royalties from Lynyrd Skynyrd music, merchandise, and other proceeds, and prohibited the parties from “implicitly or through inaction authoriz[ing] the violation of the terms [of the agreement] by any third party.” Pyle initially did not make Cleopatra aware of the Consent Order, but plaintiffs (also parties to the 1988 Consent Order) sent Cleopatra a copy, along with a cease and desist letter, after learning...

The Power of New York’s Borrowing Statute

On October 11, 2016, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, First Department, decided 2138747 Ontario, Inc. v. Samsung C&T Corp., et al., which serves as a reminder to attorneys that New York’s borrowing statute applies even where the parties agreed to a New York choice-of-law provision. The borrowing statute, CPLR 202, provides that, when a non-New York resident sues on a cause of action accruing outside New York, the complaint must be filed timely under the statute of limitations of both New York and the jurisdiction where the cause of action accrued. The statute’s underlying objective is to prevent forum shopping by nonresident plaintiffs. In Ontario, the plaintiff, a corporation formed under the law of Ontario, Canada, was a creditor of SkyPower Corporation, a bankrupt Canadian renewable energy developer. SkyPower’s bankruptcy trustee assigned to the plaintiff all of its claims against the defendants. The plaintiff then sought damages against the defendants for a breach of a nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement (NDA), which contained a broad New York choice-of-law provision. The plaintiff’s complaint was untimely under Ontario’s two-year statute of limitations but was timely under New York’s six-year statute of limitations. The trial court found that Ontario’s two-year statute of limitations applied and dismissed the case. The Appellate Division affirmed. Although the court found...