Commercial Litigation Alert Blog

Gibbons Hosts “Keys to Negotiating Better Software & Software-as-a-Service Agreements” Seminar – October 16-18, 2019

Gibbons Hosts “Keys to Negotiating Better Software & Software-as-a-Service Agreements” Seminar – October 16-18, 2019

From October 16-18, Peter J. Frazza, a Director in the Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department, will lead a seminar in Las Vegas analyzing the negotiation of software licenses and software-as-a-service agreements, including data protection and privacy issues companies face that are specific to software transactions, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Mr. Frazza has over 30 years of experience handling complex lawsuits and contract negotiations on behalf of licensees and users in software licensing and software-as-a-service matters. For additional seminar details or to register, visit https://conta.cc/31AYf0h.

FOI-led: Supreme Court Restricts Public Access to Confidential Business Information

FOI-led: Supreme Court Restricts Public Access to Confidential Business Information

In Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, the United States Supreme Court expanded the meaning of “confidential” information exempt from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In doing so, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and definitively rejected the “competitive harm” requirement adopted by the D.C. Circuit in National Parks & Conservation Assn. v. Morton. Respondent Argus Leader Media filed a FOIA request with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), seeking the names and addresses of all retail stores that participate in a federal food stamp program known as SNAP. Argus Leader also sought each store’s annual redemption data from 2005 to 2010. The USDA declined to disclose store-level SNAP data based on Exemption 4 of FOIA, which precludes disclosure of “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential.” Argus Leader sued the USDA. The district court ordered disclosure based upon the failure to satisfy the “competitive harm” test, which requires a party to establish confidentiality by proving that disclosure is “likely … to cause substantial harm to [its] competitive position.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment. In...

Sharing Communication with Public Relations Firm Destroys Privilege

Sharing Communication with Public Relations Firm Destroys Privilege

The Southern District of New York recently held that sharing attorney-client privileged communications with a public relations firm destroys that privilege. Universal Standard brought a trademark infringement and unfair competition suit against Target. During the course of discovery, documents were produced consisting of emails between Universal Standard, its outside counsel, and BrandLink, a public relations firm. When Universal Standard sought to claw back the documents because they were privileged, Target refused. The court considered whether the fact that emails between Universal Standard and its counsel were also shared with BrandLink should result in a waiver, or whether the communications fall under one of several possible exceptions to the general rule that “disclosure to a third party by the party of a communication with his attorney eliminates whatever privilege the communication may have originally possessed.” First, the court considered whether BrandLink was “essential to allow communications between the attorney and the client, such as an interpreter or accountant.” This exception applies where the third party enables counsel to understand aspects of the client’s own communications that could not otherwise be appreciated, but not where the communications are merely important to the attorney’s ability to represent the client. Here, the emails involved discussions...

Third Circuit Establishes Framework for Determining Third-Party Based Liability under the TCPA

Third Circuit Establishes Framework for Determining Third-Party Based Liability under the TCPA

In a recent precedential decision, the Third Circuit held that an unsolicited fax seeking information does not constitute an unlawful advertisement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Now, to “establish third-party based liability under the TCPA, a plaintiff must show that the fax: (1) sought to promote or enhance the quality or quantity of a product or services being sold commercially; (2) was reasonably calculated to increase the profits of the sender; and (3) directly or indirectly encouraged the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.” In Robert W. Mauthe, M.D., P.C. v. Optum, Inc., the plaintiff claimed that it received unsolicited faxes from Defendants in violation of the TCPA. Defendants maintain a national database of healthcare providers, containing providers’ contact information, demographics, specialties, education, and related data. Defendants market, sell, and license the database typically to healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, who use it to update their provider directories, identify potential providers to fill gaps in their network of providers, and validate information when processing insurance claims. To maintain the accuracy of the database, Defendants send unsolicited faxes to healthcare providers listed in the database, requesting them to respond and correct any outdated or inaccurate...

NJ Supreme Court Narrowly Construes Shareholder’s Right to Inspection of Corporate Records

NJ Supreme Court Narrowly Construes Shareholder’s Right to Inspection of Corporate Records

In R.A. Feuer v. Merck & Co., Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s narrow construction of the scope of a shareholder’s right to inspect a corporation’s records under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28 and the common law. In the underlying case, a Merck & Co, Inc. shareholder sought documents in order to elicit evidence that Merck acted wrongfully in its acquisition of another pharmaceutical firm. Merck appointed a “Working Group” to respond to the shareholder’s demand, which rejected the shareholder’s request for documents relating to the acquisition. Following this rejection, the shareholder sought twelve broad categories of corporate documents, including documents pertaining to the Working Group’s activities, communications, and formation; documents provided to the board regarding the target pharmaceutical firm and two of its drugs; and the board’s consideration of the shareholder’s demands and the Working Group’s recommendation. Merck disclosed pertinent minutes of the board and of the Working Group, but denied the remainder of the shareholder’s demand. The shareholder sued Merck, alleging entitlement to the documents under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28(4), which permits a shareholder to compel the corporation to produce its “books and records of account, minutes, and record of shareholders,” and the common law. The trial court denied...

Third Circuit Offers Reminder that Pansy Does Not Govern Sealing of Documents

Third Circuit Offers Reminder that Pansy Does Not Govern Sealing of Documents

The Third Circuit has clarified the standard for sealing documents filed with a court, emphasizing in In re Avandia that litigants who wish to prevent public access to such documents face a more exacting standard than litigants pursuing a protective order under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. In connection with its motion for summary judgment as to consumer protection claims filed by two health plans, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) filed certain documents under seal and sought to maintain the confidentiality of those documents after the plans appealed the District Court’s order granting summary judgment to GSK. The District Court granted GSK’s sealing motions in significant part, and the plans appealed. The Third Circuit held that, in ordering the documents to remain sealed, the District Court incorrectly applied the standard, articulated in Pansy v. Stroudsburg, for preserving the confidentiality of discovery materials under Rule 26. In so doing, the Third Circuit opined, the District Court failed to recognize the “strong presumption” of public access that applies to documents filed on the court’s public docket. The Third Circuit held that the District Court should have applied the more exacting common-law right-of-access standard to the motions for continued confidentiality. That standard “begins with a thumb...

Supreme Court Further Restricts Class Arbitration Finding It Must be Unambiguously Authorized

Supreme Court Further Restricts Class Arbitration Finding It Must be Unambiguously Authorized

In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varella held that courts may not infer from an ambiguous agreement that parties have consented to arbitrate on a classwide basis. Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varella involved an employee who had filed a class action against his employer. Lamps Plus responded by seeking to compel arbitration on an individual rather than a classwide basis. The district court dismissed the case and compelled arbitration, but on a class basis. Lamps Plus appealed, and the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision. The Ninth Circuit’s reasoning hinged on the fact that the arbitration agreement was ambiguous about the availability of class arbitration. The Ninth Circuit thus distinguished Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662 (2010), arguing that in Stolt-Nielsen the parties had stipulated that the agreement was silent about class arbitration, whereas the parties had no such stipulation in Lamps Plus. Because the Ninth Circuit held that the agreement was ambiguous, the appellate court turned to California’s contra proferentem rule and held that this state law contract principle required the court to...

Third Circuit Permits Extra-Strong Restrictive Covenants for Extra-Good Employees

Third Circuit Permits Extra-Strong Restrictive Covenants for Extra-Good Employees

In a recent “precedential” opinion, the Third Circuit, applying New Jersey law, approved an employer’s use of an additional, extra-stringent restrictive covenant for its high-performing salespeople, subject to careful blue lining by the court to ensure that the covenant does not create an unreasonable burden for the employees. ADP, LLC, the well-known provider of payroll and other human resources services, required its new sales employees, as a condition of employment, to sign a Sales Representative Agreement and a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Together, the two agreements essentially prohibited the employee, for one year after the termination of employment, from soliciting ADP customers “with which the Employee was involved or exposed” while employed at ADP. Once employed, ADP’s sales staff could earn stock awards by meeting certain sales targets. But to receive an award, the employee had to sign a third agreement, a Restrictive Covenant Agreement, which imposed still more post-employment restrictions on the employee. Among other things, the Restrictive Covenant Agreement essentially prohibited the employee for two years after termination from soliciting all current and prospective ADP customers, whether or not the employee was “involved or exposed” to the customer while employed by ADP. The Restrictive Covenant Agreement also contained a geographic...

Supreme Court Holds That 14-Day Appeal Deadline Established by Rule 23(f) Cannot Be Tolled

Supreme Court Holds That 14-Day Appeal Deadline Established by Rule 23(f) Cannot Be Tolled

On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court unanimously held in Nutraceutical Corporation v. Lambert, that the 14-day deadline imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f), seeking permission to appeal an order granting or denying class certification, cannot be tolled. After initially certifying a class, the District Court, on February 20, 2015, decertified the class after finding that common issues did not predominate among the class members. Pursuant to Rule 23(f)’s 14-day deadline, the plaintiff, Lambert, had until March 5, 2015 to seek permission to appeal. But, on March 2, 2015, Lambert orally informed the District Court that he would seek reconsideration and did not file his motion for reconsideration until March 12, 2015. Lambert’s motion for reconsideration was denied on June 24, 2015. Fourteen days after that, almost four months past his 14-day deadline, Lambert petitioned the Ninth Circuit seeking permission to appeal the District Court’s order decertifying the class. The Court of Appeals granted Lambert’s petition, finding that the 14-day deadline under Rule 23(f) should be tolled given the circumstances. Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that because Lambert had informed the court within 14 days that he would be seeking reconsideration, he acted diligently. The Supreme Court...

Coming Soon to an Opposition Brief Near You:  U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Disseminators of False or Misleading Statements Face Liability for Securities Fraud Under Rules 10b-5(a) and (c) Even Where They Are Not Subject to Liability Under Rule 10b-5(b)

Coming Soon to an Opposition Brief Near You: U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Disseminators of False or Misleading Statements Face Liability for Securities Fraud Under Rules 10b-5(a) and (c) Even Where They Are Not Subject to Liability Under Rule 10b-5(b)

In a decision that is certain to receive a warm welcome from the securities class action plaintiffs’ bar, last week, in Lorenzo v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a disseminator of a false or misleading statement, who cannot be liable for securities fraud under Rule 10b-5(b) because he or she was not the “maker” of that statement, nonetheless faces liability under Rules 10b-5(a) and (c) and related securities statutes. Under Rule 10b-5(b), it is unlawful to make any untrue statement of material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a security. Nearly eight years ago, in Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, 564 U.S. 135 (2011), the Supreme Court held that only the maker of a false or misleading statement faces liability under Rule 10b-5(b) and that the maker of a statement is the person with ultimate authority over the statement including its contents and whether and how to communicate it. As a result, in that case, an investment adviser who had participated in drafting a false statement included in the prospectus of its mutual fund client avoided liability for securities fraud because the mutual fund, and not the investment adviser,...