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FMG Law Blog Line

Archive for July, 2018

Let’s Eat Grandma! Punctuation Matters

Posted on: July 19th, 2018

By: Ted Peters

California Corporations Code Section 1601 provides certain rights to shareholders of corporations doing business in California.  Specifically, as the statute currently reads, corporations are required to open their books and records upon written demand from any shareholder as long as the purpose of the demand is “reasonably related” to the shareholder’s interests.  In 2016, the California Court of Appeal in Innes v. Diablo controls, Inc., 248 Cal.App.4th 139 (2016), held that Section 1601 did not require a corporation to produce records in any particular place; rather, the corporation was required only to produce records in the state where they were located, even if outside of California.

On February 13, 2018, California Representative Brian Maienschein (R) sponsored a bill that would amend Section 1601.  In June, and without a single “no” vote against it, the California Legislature enacted the bill, AB 2237 (Maienschein).  Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on July 9, 2018.

A redlined version of the changes to Section 1601 clearly illustrates that the amendments, which go into effect next year, effectively reverse the holding from Innes.  Specifically, when a shareholder demands an inspection, the records are to be made available for inspection “at the corporation’s principal office in [California], or if none, at the physical location for the corporation’s registered agent for service of process in [California].”  The amendment also provides an alternative procedure which would permit the shareholder to elect to receive the corporation’s books, records, and minutes by mail or electronically, as long as the shareholder agrees to pay the reasonable costs for copying or converting the requested documents to electronic format.

Thus, it is now clear that corporations doing business in the State of California will be required to produce records in California, regardless of where the records are maintained.  The significance of this change is obvious enough, but wait, there’s more… When amending the statute, the legislature made another minor change to the first sentence of the statute.

Previously, what was open to inspection were “The accounting books and records and minutes of proceedings…”  As amended, what will be open to inspection will be “The accounting books, records, and minutes of proceedings…”  The insertion of two commas seems innocent enough, but could lead to a heated debate as to the scope of shareholder inspections in general.  The term “accounting” in the original statute could have been interpreted to modify just “books” or both “books and records.” With the amendment, however, it would seem that “accounting books” and “records” are two separate things and a corporation might be justified in refusing to produce “accounting records” to the extent they differed from “accounting books.”

Maybe the drafters of the amendment were simply sticklers for the proper use of punctuation and thought it best to tidy the statute up.  Or maybe they intended to narrow the scope of what records corporations are required to produce.  Or perhaps the change was intended to send no message at all.  Why does it matter and who really cares?  Well, punctuation does matter, even one little comma.  At least grandmothers around the globe think so; there is a world of difference between  “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma.”

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

On-Premises Rest Breaks: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Posted on: July 18th, 2018

By: Allison Hyatt

Under California law, non-exempt employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if the employee works more than 5 hours in a workday, and a 10-minute break for every 4 hours worked (or “major fraction” thereof).  In the past, employers commonly required employees to remain on the premises during rest breaks.  However, with the California Supreme Court’s decision in Augustus v. ABM Services, Inc. (2016) 2 Cal. 5th 257, which emphasized the fact that employers must “relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time,” employers should discontinue any such policies still in practice.

Although the issue in Augustus was on-call rest periods and therefore the Court did not directly consider an on-premises rest break policy, the California Labor Commissioner’s office updated its fact sheet on rest breaks to specially address on-premises break policies in light of the Augustus opinion.  Quoting the Supreme Court’s opinion, the Labor Commissioner’s office explained that employers cannot impose such restraints, stating: “‘during rest periods employers must relieve employees of all duties and relinquish control over how employees spend their time.’  As a practical matter, however, if an employee is provided a ten minute rest period, the employee can only travel five minutes from a work post before heading back to return in time.”

Moving forward, it is unclear as to how courts will address pre-Augustus on-premises rest break policies believed to be legal at the time.  The Augustus Court did not clarify any limitations to what appears to be a sweeping ruling described by the Dissent in Augustus as a “marked departure from the approach we have taken in prior cases.”  2 Cal. 5th 257, 277.  In one post-Augustus case, Bell v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55442 (E.D. Cal. April 11, 2017), the Eastern District of California declined to reconsider a summary judgment ruling in favor of Home Depot on the plaintiffs’ claims that Home Depot violated California law by requiring employees to remain on premises during rest breaks.  The Eastern District had ruled, prior to the decision in Augustus, that such a policy did not violate the applicable California wage order and statute.  In response to the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration, Home Depot argued that the Augustus decision implies that restricting employees to the premises, without additional duties or constraints, does not violate the rule.  The Eastern District declined to alter its ruling, noting:

“[t]he facts in Augustus and the present matter are distinct, as the present case does not concern ‘on-call’ rest periods. . . The Augustus court did not directly consider an on-premises rest break policy which does not require employees to remain on call such as the one at issue here.  While the Court finds Defendants’ reading of Augustus more persuasive and accurate than Plaintiffs, it does not specifically adopt Defendant’s interpretation that Augustus affirmatively condones on-premises rest breaks.  Rather, the Court finds that the holding in Augustus does not go as far as Plaintiffs contend.”  2017 U.S. LEXIS 55442 at *5.

It will be interesting to see how other courts interpret the implications of the Augustus opinion.  For now, employers are encouraged to follow the California Labor Commissioner’s advice and discontinue any practices that impose any restraints on how employees spend their break periods.  If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Allison Hyatt at (916) 472-3302 or email at [email protected].

Is Georgia Game for Growing Bad Faith Liability?

Posted on: July 17th, 2018

By: Jessica Samford

As discussed in my last blog on bad faith, seeking bifurcation can be a proactive means to distinguish the issue of coverage from the issue of bad faith and appropriately manage the all too often unwieldy discovery process before it’s too late.  A recent case in Georgia is an interesting illustration of an insurer’s attempt to bifurcate issues after the discovery stage in a bad faith failure to settle claim in particular and is yet another cautionary example for insurers to carefully consider the increasing potential for extracontractual liability in Georgia.  Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87868, *3-*4 (M.D. Ga. May 25, 2018).

In that case, the trial court declined to bifurcate the issues of liability and proximate cause of damages at the trial stage as requested by Geico, which sought to have a jury determine whether or not Geico could be held liable for bad faith failure to settle before being presented with evidence of the default judgment entered against Geico’s insured of almost $3 million and causation of same.  Separation of liability and damages issues was not warranted according to the trial court because facts relating to Geico’s claim handling were relevant to both, and Geico’s concerns could be handled through proper jury instructions, special interrogatories, and the verdict form.  See also Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52761 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 29, 2018).  The trial court did, however, bifurcate the claim for punitive damages from the rest of the jury trial.

The result was a jury verdict of $2 million against Geico for failing to settle in response to a bicyclist’s demand for the $30,000 policy limit based on medical bills of almost $10,000 following a motor vehicle accident.  Previously, Geico had argued there was no coverage due to the insured’s failure to notify Geico of the subsequent lawsuit she was served.  Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 203617, *6, 2017 WL 6347174 (M.D. Ga. Dec. 12, 2017).  Notwithstanding such a flagrant breach of the policy’s notice conditions, the trial court did not see coverage as being an issue since that coverage defense did not exist at the time Geico responded to the demand by offering to settle for about half the limits instead.

These unusual circumstances are certainly noteworthy, and extracontractual damages such as these are becoming less uncommon in Georgia bad faith cases.  FMG’s Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith BlogLine has already geared up to cover the Georgia Supreme Court’s upcoming rulings after granting cert on the scope of what triggers failure to settle liability in Georgia, not to mention the proposed changes to the Restatement of the Law of Liability Insurance and their impact.  Whatever is in the cards for extracontractual liability in Georgia, the risks presented by settlement demands should be evaluated in light of these current trends.

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

California Passes New Comprehensive Data Privacy Law

Posted on: July 16th, 2018

By: Kacie Manisco

California has passed a sweeping data privacy law that will result in dramatic changes to how businesses in the state handle consumer data. AB 375, which will take effect on January 1, 2020, grants consumers more control over and insight into the dissemination of personal information, but imposes significant obligations on certain businesses in order to achieve those goals.

The law will apply to any California business that: (1) has an annual gross revenue over $25 million; or (2) alone or in combination, annually buys, receives, sells or shares for commercial purposes the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices; or (3) derives 50% or more of its annual revenues from selling consumers’ personal information.

The new legislation is similar in nature to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and is intended to provide residents of California the most comprehensive consumer privacy rights in the country. To that end, AB 375 requires covered businesses to give California residents:

  • The right to seek disclosure of any personal information collected by the business, up to twice a year;
  • The right to be informed of what categories of data will be collected, prior to its collection, and to be informed of any changes to this collection;
  • The right to request deletion of information collected by the business;
  • The right to opt-out of the sale of personal information;
  • Mandated opt-in before the sale of a minor’s information;
  • Protection of consumer data through reasonable security procedures and practices.

Additionally, one of the most significant aspects of the law creates a private right of action for any consumer for data breaches, without the requirement that the consumer prove injury before being awarded damages. The law provides, “any consumer whose nonencrypted or nonredacted personal information…is subject to an unauthorized access and exfiltration, theft, or disclosure as a result of the business’ violation of the duty to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the information” may be subject to a civil lawsuit. A consumer would be entitled to recover actual damages or statutory damages of between $100 and $750 per consumer per incident (whichever is greater), plus injunctive or declaratory or other relief.

While AB 375 does not take effect until 2020, California businesses should begin the process of reviewing these new complex requirements and evaluating the applicability of the regulations to its operations. Specifically, businesses should begin to assess the types and scope of data it currently collects (and has collected and stored in the past) that may be covered by the law. Moreover, organizations should minimize their exposure in handling personal data, keeping only the data directly necessary for business and legal needs.

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

A Contradiction In Terms – Recent Developments On 3rd Party Placement Of STEM Opt Students

Posted on: July 13th, 2018

By: Kenneth Levine

In April 2018, USCIS issued official guidance that precluded the assigning of a U.S. employer’s STEM OPT employees to off-site third-party locations.  A STEM OPT employee is a foreign national who is pursing “practical training” through a U.S. employer after having received a degree from a U.S. college/university in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics program.  This development was viewed as especially detrimental to IT consulting companies, whose business model is largely predicated on providing IT services to 3rd party client sites.   These client sites have always served as a fundamental training ground for recent graduates of information technology programs.

In issuing the April guidance, USCIS appears to have blatantly disregarded conflicting guidance that remains in effect.  3rd party placement of STEM OPT employees by staffing agencies is clearly permitted in the preamble to the STEM OPT regulation (8 CFR 214.16 and 81 FR 13040, 3/11/16) and ICE’s “Frequently Asked Questions and Answers” document.

The ICE FAQ addresses this issue as follows:

STEM OPT students are permitted to use staffing/placement agencies to find a training opportunity. However: … [a]ll STEM OPT regulatory requirements must be maintained, and … [t]he staffing/placement agency cannot complete and sign the Form I-983 as an employer, unless … the staffing/placement agency is an E-verified employer of the student, and … [t]he staffing/placement agency provides and oversees the training.

FMG Immigration Attorneys have received recent independent verification from colleagues that H-1B petitions are being approved where USCIS sought to challenge eligibility for the visa based on 3rd party placement of the OPT STEM employee.   Accordingly, so long as it can be demonstrated that each element of the above referenced ICE guidance for 3rd party placement (including full compliance with the I-983 training program) have been satisfied, then there is no reason for staffing companies to discontinue this practice.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Kenneth Levine of the law firm of Freeman, Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].