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Archive for February, 2018

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Data Breach Standing Case

Posted on: February 23rd, 2018

By: Amy C. Bender

The ongoing issue of when a plaintiff has grounds (“standing”) in data breach cases saw another development this week when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the debate.

CareFirst, a BlueCross BlueShield health insurer, suffered a cyberattack in 2014 that was estimated to have exposed data of 1.1 million customers. Affected customers filed a federal class action lawsuit in the District of Columbia claiming CareFirst failed to adequately safeguard their personal information. CareFirst asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that, since the customers had not alleged their stolen personal data had actually been misused or explained how it could be used to commit identity theft, the customers had not suffered an injury sufficient to give them standing to sue and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The court agreed with CareFirst and dismissed the case. Notably, in this particular breach, CareFirst maintained the hackers had not accessed more sensitive information such as the customers’ Social Security or credit card numbers, and the court found the customers had not alleged or shown how the hackers could steal the customers’ identities without that information. In other words, the mere risk to the customers of future harm in the form of increased risk of identity theft was too speculative.

The customers appealed this decision, and the appellate court reversed, finding the district court had read the customers’ complaint too narrowly. The appellate court reasoned that the customers actually had asserted their Social Security and credit card numbers were included in the compromised data and that they had sufficiently alleged a substantial risk of future injury.

In response, CareFirst filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it to review the appellate decision. This would have been the first pronouncement on this issue from the high court in a data breach class action lawsuit, a move long-awaited by lower courts, lawyers, and their clients in order to gain more clarity on the application of prior decisions like Spokeo in the specific context of data breach litigation. However, the Supreme Court denied the request (without explanation, as is typical).

As we have reported here and here, courts continue to grapple with the contours of standing in data breach cases. We will continue to monitor and report on developments in this still-evolving area of the law.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Amy Bender at [email protected].


Was That An Out-Of-Bounds Whistle?

Posted on: February 23rd, 2018

By: Samuel Y. Edgerton, III

On Wednesday, February 21, 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court settled a split of opinion between the Ninth and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The issue before the high court concerned the definition of the term “whistleblower” under the Dodd-Frank Act.

In March 2017, the Ninth Circuit found that former Digital Realty executive Paul Somers was entitled to whistleblower protection under Dodd-Frank after being discharged because he complained to upper management that a senior vice president had eliminated some internal corporate controls. These eliminations allegedly constituted a violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  However, in 2013, a Fifth Circuit ruling in a similar case, Asadi v. G.E. Energy, found that to be eligible for protection under Dodd-Frank as a recognized “whistleblower,” the employee must show that they took their complaint to the SEC, per the specific wording of the statute.

Mr. Somers’s San Francisco based employer appealed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling to the high court, as it was undisputed that Mr. Somers had not reported to the SEC, but reported elsewhere.

In ruling for a definition of a whistleblower as those who report to the SEC, the Supreme Court excluded Dodd-Frank whistleblower protections to those only reporting at their place of work.

The high court ruling is instructive on two fronts: It means that whistleblower definitions in the enabling statute are to be strictly construed. The high court opinion also suggests quite strongly that lower courts and federal agencies cannot ignore unambiguous language in an enforcement statute and expand the definitional meaning on their own.

Score one for the strict constructionist! The Ninth Circuit was out of bounds.

As stated by Justice Kagan during oral argument last November, “you have this definitional provision, and it says what it says.”

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Sam Edgerton at [email protected].

Unit Owners Denied Easement To Access Community Dock

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018

By: Michael G. Kouskoutis

In Goldman v. Lustig, a Florida townhome unit owner (Lustig) sought an injunction to prohibit neighboring unit owners from crossing his yard to access a dock located behind his unit.  The unit owners had rights to the dock pursuant to an assignment between Lustig and the Association, in which Lustig severed his riparian rights for the benefit of neighboring unit owners.  Lustig conceded that portions of the dock belonged to all unit owners and that the only means to access the shared dock was by a pier located in his backyard, yet still argued that unit owners had no right to enter his property.

The unit owners urged the court to recognize an implied easement by necessity, which grants an easement over another’s land “where there is no other reasonable and practicable way of egress, or ingress” to shared property.  In siding with Lustig, the court stated that “an easement by necessity requires a showing of an absolute necessity.”  The court reasoned that, since the unit owners live on waterfront property, “they can find an alternate means of accessing the dock, such as by constructing their own access pier, which would be a ‘reasonable and practicable way of egress, or ingress.’”

Community associations should be careful not to overlook issues of access when providing shared property, and should be mindful of the onerous burden courts may impose prior to granting implied easements.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Michael Kouskoutis at [email protected].

Using Summary Judgment during the Arbitration Process

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018

By: Erin E. Lamb

Many attorneys assume that once a case is in private arbitration, dispositive motions are against the rules and are no longer a useful tool to resolve cases. How could an arbitrator have the power to consider a dispositive motion? After all, arbitration is sold to all parties as a process that all parties must willingly opt into — in the interest of limiting the complexities of arbitration, not adding to them, as dispositive motions do. Most attorneys participating in arbitration therefore would never think of pursuing dispositive motions, even when faced with res judicata or statute of limitations issues.

This is an incorrect and unduly limiting view of the arbitration process. None other than the Supreme Court of the United States, has upheld the power of an arbitrator to adopt procedures necessary to give effect to the parties’ arbitration agreement. Stolt-Neilsen v. AnimalFeeds International, 559 U.S. 663 (2010).  It’s up to the arbitrator to determine procedural questions by looking at the arbitration agreement. In turn, most arbitration agreements invoke an arbitration providers’ rules. Most rules, including the most recent American Arbitration Association rules (last updated in 2009), indirectly give arbitrators expansive powers and wide latitude in the procedures used to give effect to the arbitration agreement.

The 2009 American Arbitration Association rules, still in effect ten years later, state that arbitrators are required to “take such steps as they may deem necessary or desirable to avoid delay and to achieve just, speedy, and cost-effective resolution of large, complex, commercial cases.” In fact, in AAA commercial cases, the rules directly address dispositive motions: “The arbitrator may allow the filing of and make rulings upon a dispositive motion only if the arbitrator determines that the moving party has shown that the motion is likely to succeed and dispose of or narrow the issues in the case.” The use of “only” makes the rule seem limiting; in reality, it directly gives arbitrators the ability to hear and rule on said motions. Multiple federal courts have affirmed arbitration awards where the arbitrator ruled on a motion for summary judgment or on summary disposition. Some arbitration provider’s rules even specifically allow for it – the JAMS rules specifically allow for the filing of dispositive motions even under objection from the other side.

Simply put, unless your arbitration agreement specifically, plainly, and expressly prohibits dispositive motions, an arbitrator is empowered to grant any relief necessary to reach a final determination of the matter, including dispositive motions. Only in the face of a specific written agreement would an arbitrator be acting outside the contractually delegated authority of the arbitration agreement. This is an important thing to consider for all attorneys in arbitration cases – and at the time of the agreement to arbitrate, not after.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Erin Lamb at [email protected].

A Millennial Gig

Posted on: February 21st, 2018

By: David M. Daniels

With Contribution By: Jason C. Dineros

The Obama Administration’s federal enforcement relaxations for marijuana use in 2013, brought with it the development of a viable market industry from what was previously looked upon as taboo—akin to “that stoner stage you went through in high school, but grew out of.” As start-ups were popping up wanting to be frontrunners in an industry that had as much anticipation as whiskey distilleries in the years that followed prohibition, so did the need for legal consultation and representation.  No longer was the idea of marijuana dispensaries becoming as common as liquor stores a far too funny dream or overly paranoid nightmare—depending on the effect—concepts including edible bakeries, “weed lounges,” and cannabis-friendly restaurants and pop-ups also materialized.

A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.

The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors. Findings from Adobe revealed that as many as one-third of the 1,000 U.S. office workers they polled had a second job and more than half (56%) predicted we would all have multiple jobs in the future. The annual report from Upwork and freelancers Union found that more people than ever are choosing to freelance, up to 55 million this year, or 35% of the total U.S. workforce. As many as 81% of traditional workers they surveyed said they would “be willing to do additional work outside of [their] primary job if it was available and enabled [them] to make more money.

There are a number of forces behind the rise in short-term jobs. For one thing, in this digital age, the workforce is increasingly mobile and work can increasingly be done from anywhere, so that job and location are decoupled. That means that freelancers can select among temporary jobs and projects around the world, while employers can select the best individuals for specific projects from a larger pool than that available in any given area.

Digitization has also contributed directly to a decrease in jobs as software replaces some types of work and means that others take much less time. Other influences include financial pressures on businesses leading to further staff reductions and the entrance of the millennial generation into the workforce. The current reality is that people tend to change jobs several times throughout their working lives; the gig economy can be seen as an evolution of that trend.

In a gig economy, businesses save resources in terms of benefits, office space and training. They also have the ability to contract with experts for specific projects who might be too high-priced to maintain on staff. From the perspective of the freelancer, a gig economy can improve work-life balance over what is possible in most jobs. Ideally, the model is powered by independent workers selecting jobs that they’re interested in, rather than one in which people are forced into a position where, unable to attain employment, they pick up whatever temporary gigs they can land.

The gig economy is part of a shifting cultural and business environment that also includes the sharing economy, the gift economy and the barter economy.

For further information or for further inquiries involving labor and employment law, commercial liability, or hospitality law, you may contact David M. Daniels, the Co-Chair of the Commercial and Complex Litigation Practice Section of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP, at [email protected].