Commercial Litigation Alert Blog

Internal Investigations and Compliance in a Post-Pandemic Environment: Risks and Opportunities

Internal Investigations and Compliance in a Post-Pandemic Environment: Risks and Opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented not only novel challenges, but also opportunities for companies hoping to enhance or regain productivity while preventing wrongdoing and maintaining robust compliance functions. As workplaces reopen, historical challenges will persist and new risks will emerge. To be best positioned during this transition phase and beyond, companies should embrace the opportunity to evaluate their existing compliance processes and make the adjustments now that are necessary to adapt to a risk landscape that will likely never again be the same. Empower Legal, Compliance, and Investigative Resources Responsible companies will not be receptive to attempts to excuse misconduct due to the pandemic, nor will regulators. After all, there will be no “pandemic defense” to wrongdoing, and hindsight tends to be unforgiving—particularly through the lens of regulators looking at current events months or years from now. And as businesses emerge from state stay-at-home orders, an increased focus on productivity threatens to exacerbate the already heightened risk environment. It is critical that compliance, legal, and internal and external investigative resources be empowered to mitigate these risks effectively. Some immediate mitigation actions to be considered include: Conducting mandatory training on the enhanced risk environment and compliance best practices. Assessing existing policies...

Third Circuit Clarifies How Arbitration Language Should be Presented to Consumers

Third Circuit Clarifies How Arbitration Language Should be Presented to Consumers

The Third Circuit recently issued a precedential decision further explaining the requirements when presenting consumers with otherwise enforceable language requiring arbitration. In Bacon v. Avis Budget Group Inc., six plaintiffs rented cars from defendant Payless Car Rental, Inc., a subsidiary of defendant Avis Budget Group, Inc. At the rental counter, plaintiffs each signed identical one-page rental agreements, which, among other things, itemized charges and fees and showed whether the customer had accepted or declined certain products and services. Each plaintiff signed below the final paragraph, which provided: “I agree the charges listed above are estimates and that I have reviewed & agreed to all notices & terms here and in the rental jacket.” The rental jackets were kept at the rental counter, typically near the rental associate’s computer terminal or printer. The rental associates were trained to give a rental jacket to each customer after the customer signed the agreement and to any customer who requested one, but the associates were not trained to alert customers to the additional terms in the rental jacket. The rental associates said nothing about the rental jacket when plaintiffs reviewed their agreements. After plaintiffs signed their agreements, the rental associate folded the agreement into...

Third Circuit Holds Solicitations to Purchase Products and for Participation in Surveys can be Advertisements Under the TCPA

Third Circuit Holds Solicitations to Purchase Products and for Participation in Surveys can be Advertisements Under the TCPA

On May 15, 2020, the Third Circuit in Fishbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc. held “that solicitations to buy products, goods, or services can be advertisements under the TCPA and that solicitations for participation in . . . surveys in exchange for [money] by the sender were for services within the TCPA” making such solicitations advertisements that fall within the TCPA’s ambit. This opinion comes just one year after the Third Circuit issued its precedential decision in Mauthe v. Optum, Inc., holding that, in order for a fax to be considered an advertisement under the TCPA, “there must be a nexus between the fax and the purchasing decision of an ultimate purchaser whether the recipient of the fax or a third party,” meaning that “the fax must promote goods or services to be bought or sold, and it should have profit as an aim.” The consolidated appeal in Fishbein arose from two District Court decisions, Fishbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc., which involved a fax offering the recipient money in exchange for participating in a medical study, and Mauthe v. ITC, Inc., which involved faxes that offered the recipient money in exchange for completing surveys. After applying the Third Circuit’s...

Governor Murphy Signs Executive Order Number 142 Allowing Resumption of Non-Essential Construction, Curbside Pick-Up from Non-Essential Retail Stores, and Gatherings in Vehicles

Governor Murphy Signs Executive Order Number 142 Allowing Resumption of Non-Essential Construction, Curbside Pick-Up from Non-Essential Retail Stores, and Gatherings in Vehicles

Given the decrease in the rate of reported new cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey, on May 13, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order Number 142 (2020) (“EO 142”) permitting, among other things, the resumption of non-essential construction, curbside pickup at non-essential retail businesses, and gatherings in vehicles. The construction and non-essential retail provisions of EO 142 went into effect at 6:00 a.m. on Monday, May 18, and the provisions allowing for gatherings in vehicles took effect when the order was signed on May 13. EO 142 is part of New Jersey’s “Road Back” strategy to begin the careful restart of the economy. Resumption of “Non-Essential” Construction and Requirements for All Construction Projects While Governor Murphy’s Executive Order Number 122 (“EO 122”) allowed only “essential construction projects” to continue, subject to adhering to certain restrictions, EO 142 provides that all construction projects in New Jersey (“essential” and “non-essential”) may proceed, provided they adopt policies that include, at minimum, the following requirements: Exclude non-essential visitors from the worksite. Restrict project meetings and workgroups to fewer than ten individuals. Follow social distancing requirements of six feet or more distance between individuals wherever possible, including when picking up or delivering materials or...

Second Circuit Affirms Expansive Reach of Preemption Provision of Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, Defeating False Labeling Class Action Premised Upon Consumer Protection Statutes

Second Circuit Affirms Expansive Reach of Preemption Provision of Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, Defeating False Labeling Class Action Premised Upon Consumer Protection Statutes

On May 11, 2020, the Second Circuit in Critcher v. L’Oréal USA, Inc., affirmed the dismissal of a putative class action, holding that the broad preemption clause of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”), 21 U.S.C. § 379s, barred plaintiffs from seeking to impose additional or different labeling requirements through their state consumer protection law claims, where Congress and the FDA already had provided for specific labeling requirements. In Critcher, purchasers of the defendant’s “liquid cosmetics” products claimed that while the net-quantities on the products’ labels were accurate, the product packaging was misleading because it omitted critical information that the creams could not be fully dispensed from the containers. Because they could not utilize the represented quantity of product, the plaintiffs claimed that they were deceived into buying more of the cosmetics than they could use. The District Court dismissed the complaint, concluding, among other things, that the claims were expressly preempted by the FDCA, and alternatively, preempted by the Federal Packaging Labeling Act (FPLA), 15 U.S.C. § 1451, et seq. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that mere compliance with that net quantity disclosure requirement was not enough because it had the effect of making the packaging misleading in...

Does “100% Natural” Mean “No GMOs”? First Circuit Holds That Deceptive Label Claim Not Barred Where FDA Leaves Question Unresolved

Does “100% Natural” Mean “No GMOs”? First Circuit Holds That Deceptive Label Claim Not Barred Where FDA Leaves Question Unresolved

On May 7, 2020, the First Circuit in Lee v. Conagra Brands, Inc., reversed the dismissal of a consumer fraud class action on the ground that the complaint plausibly stated that the product’s “100% Natural” statement may be deceptive to a consumer where the product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In Lee, the plaintiff claimed that a “100% Natural” representation on the product label for Wesson Oil enticed her to buy the product because it indicated to her that the oil was GMO-free, when in fact it was not. She filed a class action alleging unfair or deceptive trade practices in violation of the Massachusetts consumer fraud law, Chapter 93A. The district court granted Conagra’s motion to dismiss, finding that the “100% Natural” language was “consistent with the FDA’s longstanding policy for the use of the term ‘natural’ on the labels of human food.” Additionally, the district court held that the FDA does not require a product to disclose on its label the use of GMOs. An act or practice violates Chapter 93A if it is “either unfair or deceptive.” The First Circuit’s decision addressed only the “deceptive” prong as plaintiff failed to raise, and thus waived, any argument that...

Third Circuit Reverses Class Certification in In re Lamictal Direct Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig.; Next up, In re Suboxone

Third Circuit Reverses Class Certification in In re Lamictal Direct Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig.; Next up, In re Suboxone

On April 22, 2020, the Third Circuit in In re Lamictal Direct Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig., reversed class certification, concluding that the evidence did not establish that common proofs could be used to prove class-wide injury. The circuit court faulted the district court’s predominance analysis for failing to resolve factual disputes, weigh competing expert evidence, and make a prediction as to how these issues would play out at trial. Central to the ruling was the issue of antitrust impact. After brand and generic pharmaceutical manufacturers of the prescription drug Lamictal, or generic lamotrigine, settled a patent litigation, direct purchasers of these drugs sued claiming the settlement violated the antitrust laws as an impermissible “reverse payment agreement.” The brand manufacturer was alleged to have “paid” the generic to stay out of the market by promising not to launch an authorized generic (“AG”). The direct payor plaintiffs argued that they paid more for the drugs than they would have otherwise based on the theory that, on average, the price of a generic is lower when there are two generics rather than just one. The Third Circuit granted the manufacturer-defendants’ petition for leave to appeal under Rule 23(f). First, the Third Circuit...

Appellate Division Enforces Provision Prohibiting Class Arbitration

Appellate Division Enforces Provision Prohibiting Class Arbitration

In Curiale v. Hyundai Capital America Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed an order denying a motion to compel arbitration by Hyundai’s financing company (“HCA”), based on an arbitration clause in a motor vehicle retail order. The Appellate Division rejected the trial court’s finding that the arbitration clause was ambiguous because it stated that the parties must arbitrate any claims and then explicitly stated that the provision bars “class action arbitration.” The Arbitration clause provided: AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE ANY CLAIMS. READ THE FOLLOWING ARBITRATION PROVISION CAREFULLY, IT LIMITS YOUR RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO MAINTAIN A COURT ACTION. The parties to this agreement agree to arbitrate any claim, dispute, or controversy, including all statutory claims and any state or federal claims, that may arise out of or relating to the sale or lease identified in this agreement. By agreeing to arbitration, the parties understand and agree that they are waiving their rights to maintain other available resolution processes, such as a court action or administrative proceeding, to settle their disputes. … The parties also agree to waive any right (i) to pursue any claims arising under this agreement including statutory, state or federal claims, as a class action arbitration,...

Is Everything Negotiable? Anticipating Legal Issues for the “Reopening”

Is Everything Negotiable? Anticipating Legal Issues for the “Reopening”

In the early 1980s, a book entitled You Can Negotiate Anything spent nine months on the New York Times bestseller list. The book may have a resurgence in the coming months, as one thing is for certain right now: After the state’s reopening, every contract, lease, and agreement is likely to be subject to negotiation. While much attention has been focused on force majeure provisions in contracts and potential bankruptcy filings, the practical effect of survival of the fittest will dictate necessary legal needs. Certainly there will be a time lag for the courts to be clogged with new cases. The retail, leisure travel, and entertainment sectors, while arguably most impacted by the recent closures and restrictions, will surely not be the only areas where businesses and individuals by necessity will renegotiate virtually every existing agreement. As New Jersey deals with the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic, legal issues are emerging that were previously never contemplated. In an instant, the world has changed, and all negotiated contracts are potentially at risk. The question becomes: How do businesses protect their futures? To start, anticipate legal issues. Documents and Agreements Likely to Be Subject to Renegotiation It is prudent to develop a...

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

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...