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Archive for May, 2020

Finding Shelter from the Storm: SBA Issues New Guidance on Safe Harbors for PPP Borrowers

Posted on: May 20th, 2020

By: Anastasia Osbrink

The safe harbor period for businesses that received the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans expired on May 18, 2020 after a 4-day automatic extension. That safe harbor provided that businesses that repaid loans by that date would automatically be deemed to have satisfied the “good faith” requirement of the PPP wherein borrowers certified that “current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.” This safe harbor arose after reports of large businesses, such as Shake Shack and the NBA, receiving loans under the program. Under normal circumstances, a business must provide documentation of making unsuccessful attempts to obtain loans from other sources prior to receiving an SBA loan. However, the PPP required self-certifications of good faith and eligibility without requesting separate documentation. The purpose of this was to quickly get an injection of cash into the economy – particularly to small businesses – so that companies could retain and rehire employees. When it came out that large companies were also receiving these loans, a public outcry ensued and the SBA provided additional guidance allowing for this safe harbor period so that large businesses would be encouraged to repay loans without facing any further investigation, audits, or consequences based on the “good faith” certification. Many of these larger businesses may still satisfy the “good faith” requirement, but making quick repayments creates good optics for these companies and eliminates further audits based on this certification.

Now, in a further effort to conserve resources and protect small business’ payroll capacities, the SBA has announced an additional safe harbor. This second safe harbor provides for an automatic assumption of good faith for any borrower that, along with its affiliates, received under $2 million in PPP loans, regardless of whether that loan was repaid by May 18, 2020. This means that audits for good faith will only be conducted for companies that received over $2 million and did not repay that loan by May 18th. The SBA cited three reasons for this additional safe harbor: 1)  borrowers that received under $2 million are more likely to satisfy the “good faith” requirement because they are less likely to have had access to other loan sources; 2) it will help promote economic stability by helping small businesses retain and rehire employees that otherwise may not have the ability to do so; and 3) it will enable the SBA to conserve resources by only investigating and auditing those companies that received bigger loans, which could yield larger returns if successful. It should be noted, though, that neither of these safe harbors apply to other requirements, such as the eligibility certification, or outright false statements or fraud. However, except where there is evidence of actual fraud, it appears that companies that fall into one of the safe harbors are unlikely to be audited.

It also seems that the SBA is less focused on punishment and more focused on recouping loans that did not satisfy the good faith requirement. That is because the SBA additionally stated that if it does determine a company failed to satisfy the good faith requirement after being audited, the company will not face any further action or fines if it repays the loan in full. This though, again, does not apply to determinations of actual fraud.

As the focus shifts to larger companies and the safe harbor for these larger loans expires, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) is ramping up its investigations of public companies that received PPP loans. The SEC is seeking information from several of these public companies in order to ascertain whether they satisfied the PPP requirements. As part of this sweeping probe, the SEC is sending out letters to these public companies entitled “In the Matter of Certain Paycheck Protection Program Loan Recipients,” in which it requests additional information and documentation. This again demonstrates the focus of audits and investigations on large companies that received significant loans rather than on small businesses.

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

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis.  Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

FINRA In-Person Hearings Further Postponed Until July 31

Posted on: May 20th, 2020

By: Kathleen Cusack and Kirsten Patzer

On Friday, May 15, 2020, amidst continued concern over the potential spread of COVID-19, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) postponed all in-person arbitration and mediation proceedings until July 31, 2020. FINRA initially postponed in-person meetings beginning in March and extended the suspension several times. 

In its most recent announcement, FINRA also offered to waive the postponement fee if parties agree to reschedule in-person hearings currently scheduled between July 31 and September 4, 2020. All other case deadlines continue to apply. 

As an alternative to in-person meetings, videoconferencing or telephonic meetings are permissible if requested by parties or if mandated by arbitrators. This option is reportedly unpopular and infrequently utilized. And when it has been utilized, the outcomes are subject to scrutiny and may lead to awards being overturned.

A recent FINRA award has resulted in Wunderlich Securities, Inc. filing an action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York asking that the $11.4 million award issued against them in March be vacated after the final hearing was held via Zoom. According to Wunderlich, the panel had been inattentive throughout the entire proceeding, held over the course of 9 sessions, with the final session being the only one not held in person. During the Zoom videoconference, one arbitrator would look at other screens, typing, and eating during testimony, another arbitrator completely blocked her screen, and during closing arguments, one of the panelists completely walked away from his screen. After the final hearing Wunderlich filed a motion requesting that the panel recuse itself. That motion was unanimously denied by the panel.

The original FINRA arbitration was Dominick & Dickerman LLC, Michael John Campbell v. Wunderlich Securities, Inc., available here. The Petition to Vacate for that case, available here.  

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Kirsten Patzer at [email protected] or Kathleen Cusack at [email protected]

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis.  Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

Massachusetts Joins Jurisdictions Prohibiting Class-Wide Arbitration of Wage Claims Absent Agreement Expressly Permitting Class Actions

Posted on: May 18th, 2020

By: Kevin Kenneally, Janet Barringer and William Gildea

In a further blow to class action claimants and lawyers, a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge recently ruled a car salesman could not arbitrate Wage Act claims on behalf of coworkers absent an express provision in the employment agreement permitting such a class action.   In Grieco Enterprises, Inc. v. McNamara, the employer sought a declaratory judgment ruling that an employee could not arbitrate wage claims on behalf of a putative class of employees even if his employment contract was silent on the issue and did not expressly prohibit or allow for such a class action. This favorable outcome for employers and insurers follows a similar 2019 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States holding an ambiguous employment agreement cannot be the basis to compel class-wide arbitration.

In the Massachusetts state court arbitration matter, the employee claimed his employer failed to pay him—and others—required overtime and Sunday-hours premium in violation of state wage laws.  He demanded arbitration on behalf of himself and other similarly-situated commission-only salespeople.  In response, the employer filed the declaratory judgment action in Massachusetts state court seeking determination whether a class action in this instance is permissible.  The Massachusetts Superior Court held class action arbitration is not permissible because the parties’ employment agreement did not expressly permit employees to arbitrate class actions.  The Court held the employee may proceed to arbitration solely on an individual basis. 

The decision in McNamara is garnering attention due to the state’s decision last year concerning commission-based salespeople, Sullivan v. Sleepy’s LLC.  In Sleepy’s, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held commission-paid retail salespeople are entitled to “time-and-a-half” overtime compensation based on the statutory minimum wage — even when their commissions always met or exceeded the state minimum.  Sleepy’s specifically held the overtime and Sunday premium wage statutes applied to commission-paid sales staff.  The McNamara claimant sought to apply this ruling to an entire class of workers rather than having each worker bring an individual claim.  The employment agreement at issue contained a general statement in the agreement it was “in conformity with” Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure—which claimant contended includes procedural rules for class actions, thus tacitly subjecting the employer to class arbitration.  The Superior Court rejected the argument and held the parties to the contract did not expressly agree to engage in class action arbitration.  The judge in McNamara held that if she were to permit the application of an unclear provision to authorize class actions, “unrepresented employees could be bound by an arbitration that he or she did not individually consent to participate in.  Such a result is contrary to the legal underpinnings for arbitration, specifically that it is a consensual contractual matter.”

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407, 587 US __, 203 L. Ed. 2d 636  (2019), which was seen as a setback to workers’ ability to join or aggregate the individual claims of other workers who had agreed in their employment contracts to an arbitration forum.  Lamps Plus held in claims subject to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) an ambiguous agreement cannot be the necessary contractually-agreed basis to force an employer to submit to class-wide arbitration.  The high court agreed with the employer there simply was no foundational agreement to arbitrate the class action and the lower court acted contrary to the primary purpose of the FAA.  Lamps Plus held a lower court may not compel arbitration on a class-wide basis when an agreement is “silent” on the availability of such arbitration and “that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”  

Employers who incorporate arbitration provisions in their employment agreements for individual basis only will benefit by the uniform application of law in both state and federal courts.  Employers in Massachusetts have certainty absent a specific provision – or even in the face of a vague arbitration provision – class-wide arbitration will not be available to employees whether the claims are based on federal or state law.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Kevin Kenneally at [email protected], Janet Barringer at [email protected] or William Gildea at [email protected].

Potential New Reporting Requirements for Long-Term Care Facilities in the Commonwealth in Response to COVID-19

Posted on: May 14th, 2020

By: Janet Barringer, William Gildea and Kevin Kenneally

In the wake of alarming reports from other states that nursing homes were forced to accept known COVID-19 positive residents, a policy which may have caused the spike in healthy nursing home residents becoming infected, Massachusetts has proposed sweeping legislation to protect senior citizens and to require daily reporting from Long-Term Care residences to ensure patient and resident safety. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Legislature has proposed legislation that will impact reporting requirements for long-term care facilities, including assisted-living facilities and state correctional facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If enacted, Massachusetts Senate Bill S.2695 would significantly impact day-to-day operations at long-term care facilities.  Facilities will have to consider how to change their respective operations to meet reporting requirements.  

The proposed legislation will demand close monitoring of COVID-19 cases of residents and employees in Long-Term care facilities and increase reporting requirements.  Massachusetts Senate Bill S.2695 proposes the Department of Public Health collect daily data sets from local Boards of Health, including but not limited to:

  • the total number of people tested for COVID-19 within the previous 24 hours;
  • the total number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 24 hours;
  • the total number of people who have died due to a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 or from complications related to COVID-19, as reported in the previous 24 hours through the department’s receipt of vital records;
  • the aggregate number of people who have died due to a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 or from complications related to COVID-19 since the governor’s March 10, 2020 declaration of a case of COVID-19, including, but not limited to:
    • gender;
    • race;
    • ethnicity;
    • primary city or town of residence;
    • age;
    • disability.

The proposed legislation calls for the Department of Public Health to publish daily reports of the data collected.  The daily reports would be compiled by geographic location, including by county and municipality, and assisted living residences licensed by the executive office of elder affairs and long-term care facilities licensed by the department of public health, including the number of COVID-19 positive cases andmortalities among residents, as well as the aggregate number of COVID-19 positive cases and mortalities among staff at each residence or facility. 

Assisted-living facilities licensed by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and long-term care facilities licensed by the Department of Public Health will be required to notify residents and their representatives within twelve (12) hours if there is a confirmed case of or death due to COVID-19 in a resident or staff member and/or if three (3) or more residents/staff have a new onset of respiratory symptoms within the previous seventy-two (72) hours.  The proposed legislation also calls for a task force to study and make policy recommendations that address health disparities for underserved or underrepresented populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The proposed legislation would no longer be in effect after the governor certifies there has been no positive COVID-19 test in the Commonwealth.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Kevin Kenneally at [email protected], Janet Barringer at [email protected] or William Gildea at [email protected].

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include tort claims in a post COVID-19 world, real estate issues amid the pandemic and more. Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

Boston Implements New COVID-19 Safety Procedures for Construction Sites

Posted on: May 13th, 2020

By: Catherine Bednar

On May 5, 2020, the City of Boston activated new COVID-19 safety procedures for active construction sites, which are currently limited to projects meeting the City’s definition of emergency or essential work. The City also targeted dates for expanding the categories of permitted construction activity in the City to more closely match the State’s definition of essential construction services; currently, the City has imposed significantly greater restrictions on construction activity.[1]

The City’s Order sets forth the following timetable:

• May 5, 2020 – Essential construction projects with approved COVID-19 Safety Affidavits and COVID-19 Safety Plans will be authorized to prepare the site with project-specific COVID-19 safety measures.

• May 18, 2020 – The City will allow essential construction work on sites that meet the following criteria: (1) Projects are permitted, in compliance and have filed a COVID-19 Safety plan and a signed affidavit; (2) Project sites are sufficiently prepared to adhere to all criteria of their safety plan; and (3) the work is for hospitals, public schools, residential buildings [1-3 units], road and utility work, or other outdoor/open air-work such as steel erection, roofing and constructing foundations.

• May 26, 2020 – All essential construction projects may re-commence construction activities in adherence to their safety plans.

The City has adopted this incremental approach in order to provide additional time “necessary to allow complex, large-scale development an opportunity to educate their workforce, safely remobilize and implement their site-specific Safety Plan.” All Projects must comply with the City’s COVID-19 Safety Policy for Construction, issued on April 27, 2020, which requires the implementation of best practices, including pre-shift safety measures (e.g. employees travel to work separately), job site hygiene practices (e.g. hand sanitization stations), social distancing techniques (e.g. holding safety meetings outdoors); and appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

[1] Massachusetts Sees Tensions Between Municipal Construction Bans and Governor’s “Essential Services” Order (April 1, 2020).

[2] https://www.boston.gov/news/temporary-guidance-construction-city-boston

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include liability considerations for jails and prisons, tort claims in a post COVID-19 world, real estate issues amid the pandemic and more. Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**