Commercial Litigation Alert Blog

Feeling the Chill: The Petro Lubricant Decision – Can Correcting an Online Error Hurt You?

Feeling the Chill: The Petro Lubricant Decision – Can Correcting an Online Error Hurt You?

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Petro-Lubricant Testing Laboratories, Inc. v. Adelman left unanswered significant questions as to what constitutes a republication when corrections or modifications are made to an online publication, thereby retriggering the statute of limitations for defamation. In a 4-3 opinion, the majority established a test for whether a correction or modification is a republication that increases the likelihood that trial courts will deny summary judgment motions, leaving the question of republication for the jury. The practical effect of this will likely be far fewer corrections to online publications for fear of reviving or extending the applicable statute of limitations. Specifically, the majority held that an online article is republished if an author makes a material and substantive change to the original defamatory article. According to the majority: A material change is one that relates to the defamatory content of the article at issue. It is not a technical website modification or the posting on the website of another article with no connection to the original defamatory article. A substantive change is one that alters the meaning of the original defamatory article or is essentially a new defamatory statement incorporated into the original article. It is...

New Jersey Appellate Division Holds Rescission of Contract Also Rescinds Agreement to Arbitrate Contractual Disputes

New Jersey Appellate Division Holds Rescission of Contract Also Rescinds Agreement to Arbitrate Contractual Disputes

In a recent published opinion, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that an arbitration provision will not survive rescission of the contract in which it is contained unless the parties expressly agree otherwise, and that the issue is properly decided by the trial court and not the arbitrator. This opinion marks one more step in New Jersey’s evolving landscape regarding questions of arbitrability. In Goffe v. Foulke Management Corp., the panel considered two actions consolidated on appeal. Both actions involved consumers who attempted to purchase cars from two separate dealerships. Both consumers signed some of the initial paperwork (which contained an arbitration provision), accepted possession of the vehicle, but returned the vehicles after a few days for different reasons. When their respective security deposits for the vehicles were withheld, they each brought suit claiming wrongful conduct on the part of the dealerships. The defendant dealerships successfully moved to dismiss, asserting that plaintiffs were contractually required to arbitrate their pleaded claims. Plaintiffs appealed. After determining that issues of fact as to whether valid sales contracts had been formed and were enforceable should have prevented dismissal of the actions, the Appellate Division addressed whether the arbitration provisions in the contracts were rescinded...

New Jersey Supreme Court’s “Aggrieved Consumer” Ruling Will Erode TCCWNA Class Actions

New Jersey Supreme Court’s “Aggrieved Consumer” Ruling Will Erode TCCWNA Class Actions

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s April 16, 2018 decision in Spade v. Select Comfort (consolidated with Wenger v. Bob’s Discount Furniture, LLC), entirely destroys the viability of “no injury” class actions under the New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”) and will also surely erode the viability of TCCWNA class certification more broadly. Via referred questions from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the N.J. Supreme Court held that in order to be an “aggrieved consumer” under the TCCWNA, a plaintiff must demonstrate an adverse consequence caused by an unlawful provision in a consumer contract or other writing. The TCCWNA essentially prohibits businesses from including in any written consumer contract, warranty, or sign any provision that “violates any clearly established legal right of a consumer or responsibility of a seller” or other business. N.J.S.A. § 56:12-15. Although the TCCWNA on its face appears to only allow an “aggrieved consumer” to sue to recover a “civil penalty” of not less than $100 or actual damages, this Statute has been used—some might say abused—with increasing frequency by the plaintiff class action bar to bring “no injury” class actions premised solely upon the existence of a contract containing some unenforceable or...

Enough Said: Southern District of New York Decision Reiterates Limits of Disclosure Obligations Under Securities Laws

Enough Said: Southern District of New York Decision Reiterates Limits of Disclosure Obligations Under Securities Laws

The Southern District of New York’s recent decision in Employees Retirement System of the City of Providence v. Embraer S.A. may provide useful guidance for companies struggling with disclosure obligations in the midst of ongoing investigations into potential unlawful conduct. Defendant Embraer, S.A., a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, made a series of disclosures regarding external and internal investigations into potential U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations. Specifically, in November 2011, Embraer disclosed investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and advised that it had retained outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation. Although the company repeatedly warned that it may be required to pay substantial fines or incur other sanctions, it also stated early in the investigation that it did not believe there was a basis to estimate reserves or quantify any loss contingency. In July 2016, Embraer announced that settlement negotiations with the DOJ and SEC had progressed to a point warranting recognition of a $200 million loss contingency. Nearly three months later, the company announced a settlement that included a fine of over $107 million and disgorgement of nearly $84 million in profits. On December 13, 2016, Employees’ Retirement System of the...

TCPA Update: When Revocation of Consent Is Unreasonable

TCPA Update: When Revocation of Consent Is Unreasonable

The District of New Jersey recently made clear that when attempting to cancel unwanted commercial text messages, if the recipient does not follow the sender’s simple instructions, any other attempts to revoke consent to the text messages may be found unreasonable. In Rando v. Edible Arrangements International, LLC, a class action lawsuit claiming violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227, et seq., plaintiff claimed that she was sent commercial text messages from defendant using an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”). Though plaintiff had originally consented to receive such text messages, and never followed defendant’s instruction to text “STOP to cancel,” the complaint alleged that plaintiff had revoked her consent to receive the messages via other return text messages of varying content and that defendant had impermissibly designated an exclusive means for the revocation of consent.” The Rando court held that the complaint failed to state a TCPA claim by failing to allege that the plaintiff’s chosen method of revoking consent was reasonable. Plaintiff had replied to the text with language which would clearly indicate to a human being that she wanted to revoke her consent, but she did not text back “STOP” as instructed in...

No Harm to Competition: Third Circuit Upholds Decision for Uber in Antitrust Challenge by Philadelphia Taxicab Drivers

No Harm to Competition: Third Circuit Upholds Decision for Uber in Antitrust Challenge by Philadelphia Taxicab Drivers

The Third Circuit’s newly-issued precedential opinion in Philadelphia Taxi Association v. Uber Technologies, Inc. is a classic reminder that the antitrust laws protect against harm to competition – not harm to competitors. In 2016, a group of Philadelphia taxicab drivers sued Uber in federal district court, alleging that the ride-sharing service was unlawfully attempting to monopolize the vehicle-for-hire market in Philadelphia. Plaintiffs pointed to the fact that, in October 2014, just prior to Uber’s entry into Philadelphia, there were 7,000 taxi drivers, and each of the city’s 1,610 taxicab medallions was valued at an average of $545,000. Two years later, 1,200 medallion taxi drivers had fled to Uber, those still driving taxis saw a thirty percent decline in their earnings, and the value of a medallion plummeted to just $80,000. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that the plaintiffs had not pled antitrust injury – i.e., harm that the antitrust laws are designed to prevent – and thus did not have antitrust standing to maintain their suit. This appeal followed. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal but, unlike the district court, did so first based on plaintiffs’ failure to plausibly allege the elements of their attempted monopolization claim – i.e.,...

D.C. Circuit’s Rejection of FCC’s 2015 “Autodialer” Definition is Welcome News for Businesses in TCPA Class Actions

D.C. Circuit’s Rejection of FCC’s 2015 “Autodialer” Definition is Welcome News for Businesses in TCPA Class Actions

On March 16, 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a long awaited decision in its review of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order, which among other things, had sought to clarify various aspects of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) general bar against using automated dialing devices (ATDS) to make uninvited calls or texts messages. The FCC’s 2015 Order was largely viewed by businesses as having greatly expanded the scope of the TCPA, opening the floodgates of class action litigation against businesses utilizing virtually any type of text messaging to communicate ads to customers. In ACA International v. FCC, the D.C. Circuit, among other things, struck down the Commission’s broad definition of autodialer. The TCPA generally makes it unlawful to call a cell phone using an ATDS, i.e., “equipment which has the capacity-(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” Id. § 227(a)(1). The FCC’s 2015 Order declined to define a device’s “capacity” in a manner confined to its “present capacity,” but rather, construed a device’s “capacity” to encompass its “potential functionalities” with modifications such as software changes. Thus,...

Third Circuit Awards $10 Million to Plaintiff on Summary Judgment in Recent RICO Case

Third Circuit Awards $10 Million to Plaintiff on Summary Judgment in Recent RICO Case

The Third Circuit recently affirmed a summary judgment in favor of a plaintiff for more than $10 million in damages on federal and state RICO claims. In the process, the court shed light on what evidence shows an “intent to defraud a financial institution” as required to establish bank fraud. In Liberty Bell Bank v. Rogers, et al., a bank sued an individual and entities he owned and controlled, alleging, among other things, violations of the federal and New Jersey RICO statutes. The bank alleged that the defendants developed a scheme through which they fraudulently obtained loans from the bank and further defrauded it by making payments on the loans using a check-kiting scheme. On a motion for summary judgment – in response to which the individual pro se defendant failed to file a responsive statement of material facts, thereby enabling the court to deem certain facts admitted – the district court entered summary judgment in favor of the bank, holding the defendants jointly and severally liable to the bank for more than $10 million, plus attorneys’ fees and costs. The defendants appealed, and the Third Circuit affirmed. In particular, the court affirmed the district court’s finding that defendants had...

Plaintiffs No Longer Need a “Nexus” to Pennsylvania in Order to Bring Claims Under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law

Plaintiffs No Longer Need a “Nexus” to Pennsylvania in Order to Bring Claims Under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law

In answering a certified question from the Third Circuit, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently issued a decision that greatly expands the reach of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL). In Danganan v. Guardian Protection Services, the Supreme Court held that “a non-Pennsylvania resident may bring suit under the UTPCPL against a [Pennsylvania]-headquartered business based on transactions that occurred out-of-state.” Plaintiff Danganan contracted with Guardian Protection Services (“Guardian”), a Pennsylvania-headquartered business, for home security equipment and services at the plaintiff’s then-home in Washington, DC. The contract contained, inter alia, a choice-of-law provision, stating that the “Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Pennsylvania.” After moving to California, the plaintiff attempted to cancel the agreement, but Guardian continued to bill the plaintiff, claiming the agreement authorized ongoing charges through the contract’s term, regardless of cancellation attempts. The plaintiff brought suit in Pennsylvania state court, and Guardian removed the matter to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Guardian then moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff had not, pursuant to the UTPCPL, demonstrated a “sufficient nexus” between Pennsylvania and the improper conduct alleged in the complaint. The district court agreed and dismissed the complaint....

Delaware Supreme Court Gives Preclusive Effect to Federal Court  Dismissal of Derivative Suit for Failure to Show Demand Futility

Delaware Supreme Court Gives Preclusive Effect to Federal Court Dismissal of Derivative Suit for Failure to Show Demand Futility

In its highly anticipated opinion in California State Teachers’ Retirement System v. Alvarez, the Delaware Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of a group of Delaware shareholders’ derivative actions, holding that a previous dismissal by a federal court for failure to plead demand futility precluded other shareholders from pursuing additional derivative actions so long as the other shareholders were adequately represented in the earlier suit. Following the New York Times 2012 exposure of Wal-Mart executives’ alleged mishandling of bribery allegations, Wal-Mart shareholders brought derivative suits in the Western District of Arkansas and the Delaware Court of Chancery. In May 2015, the Arkansas court dismissed the case before it, because the shareholders had failed to adequately plead demand futility. Prompted by the Arkansas dismissal, the Delaware Court of Chancery initially dismissed the Delaware action, but, after some ping-ponging back and forth between the Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery issued a supplemental opinion, recommending that the Supreme Court adopt a rule proposed in EZCORP Inc. Consulting Agreement Deriv. Litig., which held that constitutional Due Process permits a derivative suit to have a preclusive effect on a subsequent derivative suit only if the plaintiff in the first...