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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...

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...

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

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...

New Jersey Appellate Division Affirms Dismissal of Four Putative Class Actions Claiming Violations of Section 16 of the TCCWNA

New Jersey Appellate Division Affirms Dismissal of Four Putative Class Actions Claiming Violations of Section 16 of the TCCWNA

In Duke v. All American Ford, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed dismissal of four putative class actions (consolidated for appeal) alleging that agreements to purchase, lease, or rent motor vehicles violated the Truth in Consumer Contracts, Warranty, and Notice Act’s (TCCWNA) Section 16. The trial courts had dismissed all such claims for failure to plead a violation of Section 16. While the appeals in these matters were pending, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Spade v. Select Comfort, holding that “an adverse consequence is a necessary element of the TCCWNA cause of action.” As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Spade, the Appellate Division in Duke rejected the appeals and affirmed the orders of dismissal without even considering the various substantive Section 16 arguments. Each of the putative class action complaints alleged that certain clauses in purchase, lease, or rental documents violated Section 16 of the TCCWNA, which, among other things, prohibits language in a written contract “that any of its provisions is or may be void, unenforceable, or inapplicable in some jurisdictions without specifying which provisions are or are not void, unenforceable or inapplicable within the State of New Jersey.” Three of the cases (Duke,...

Third Circuit Affirms Narrow Definition of Autodialer Under the TCPA

Third Circuit Affirms Narrow Definition of Autodialer Under the TCPA

In a precedential decision, the Third Circuit affirmed a narrow reading of autodialer under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), the first such decision within this Circuit following the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the FCC’s 2015 definition of autodialer in ACA International. In Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., plaintiff purchased a cell phone with a reassigned telephone number, the prior owner of which had subscribed to Yahoo’s Email SMS Service. Because the prior owner of the number never cancelled the subscription, plaintiff received a text message from Yahoo every time the prior owner received an email, which amounted to thousands of text messages. Plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging that Yahoo had violated the TCPA, which requires that plaintiff prove that Yahoo’s Email SMS Service was an “automatic telephone dialing system,” i.e., an autodialer. Following the FCC’s 2015 ruling, plaintiff amended his complaint to allege that the Email SMS Service “ha[d] the potential capacity to place autodialed calls.” Yahoo moved for summary judgment, and both parties submitted expert reports addressing the Email SMS Service’s latent or potential capacity. The District Court granted Yahoo’s motion to exclude plaintiff’s expert reports and granted summary judgment in favor of Yahoo. On appeal, the...

New Jersey Appellate Division Continues to Hold Sky-High Bar for Arbitration Clauses

New Jersey Appellate Division Continues to Hold Sky-High Bar for Arbitration Clauses

In determining the enforceability of arbitration agreements, the New Jersey Appellate Division recently considered the interplay of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Kindred Nursing Ctrs. v. Clark and the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Atalese v. U.S. Legal Services Grp., L.P. In Defina v. Go Ahead and Jump 1, the Appellate Division held that Kindred Nursing did not abrogate the holding in Atalese. In Defina, the plaintiff, a minor, broke his ankle while playing trampoline dodgeball at Defendant’s facility. Plaintiff’s father had signed a document entitled “Participation Agreement, Release, and Assumption of Risk,” which contained the following arbitration provision: If there are any disputes regarding this agreement, I on behalf of myself and/or my child(ren) hereby waive any right I and/or my child(ren) may have to a trial and agree that such dispute shall be brought within one year of the date of this Agreement and will be determined by binding arbitration before one arbitrator to be administered by JAMS pursuant to its Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures. . . . Plaintiffs sued, and the trial court granted Defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed, holding that “the arbitration clause at issue in this...

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

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...

In Defective Shingles Class Action, Third Circuit Rejects Novel “Expected Useful Life” Defect Theory Premised on Warranty Period

In Defective Shingles Class Action, Third Circuit Rejects Novel “Expected Useful Life” Defect Theory Premised on Warranty Period

The Third Circuit recently confirmed that plaintiffs must provide evidence of a specific defect, capable of classwide proof, in order to prevail on proposed class claims, holding that, where defective design is “an essential element of Plaintiffs’ misrepresentation-based claims,” whether proof of the defect “is susceptible to classwide evidence is dispositive of whether Plaintiffs can satisfy predominance” under Rule 23(b)(3). In Gonzalez v. Owens Corning, the plaintiffs sued the manufacturer of Oakridge fiberglass roofing shingles, claiming that their shingles, which were subject to warranties of 25 years or more, were “plagued by design flaws that result in cracking, curling and degranulation” and “will eventually fail.” The plaintiffs argued that the product warranties amounted to representations about the shingles’ expected useful life. Plaintiffs did not dispute that the design specifications for all shingles met the applicable industry design standard (“ASTM”), but claimed that compliance with the ASTM specifications did not consistently yield shingles that would last the stated warranty period. Thus, plaintiffs claimed that the issue of “defectiveness should be judged by the expected useful life of the shingles as represented by the applicable warranty period.” The plaintiffs’ expert, whose testimony was largely stricken as unreliable under Daubert, acknowledged that there...

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...