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Posts Tagged ‘commercial’

Georgia Court of Appeals Concludes the Term “Affiliate” is Ambiguous

Posted on: February 4th, 2019

By: Jake Carroll

In Salinas v. Atlanta Gas Light Company,[1] the Georgia Court of Appeals’ recently examined whether Georgia Natural Gas (“GNG”) and Atlanta Gas Light Company (“AGLC”) were “affiliates.” Both AGLC and GNG were owned and controlled, either directly or through an intermediary, by a company named AGL Resources, Inc.

In Salinas, AGLC sought to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims and compel arbitration. In support of its argument, AGLC relied on a term in GNG’s service agreement that required the Plaintiff to arbitrate any disputes with GNG’s “affiliates.” However, since the term “affiliate” was not defined in GNG’s agreement, the Court of Appeals looked at how the term “affiliate” is defined in the Georgia Code, Black’s Law Dictionary, and other jurisdictions, and ultimately determined that the term is ambiguous. The Court of Appeals construed the agreement against GNG—the drafter of the contract—and as a result, AGLC could not demand arbitration of Plaintiff’s dispute.

While the Court of Appeals did not set-out a specific definition for “affiliate,” the Court’s analysis provides a couple of practice tips to anyone involved in drafting, reviewing, or enforcing contracts, including commercial agreements, government contracts, or insurance policies.

  1. Define Your Terms: The Salinas Court may not have had to address the meaning of “affiliates” if the Agreement had defined the term. But, since the term was not defined, the Court looked elsewhere, including other jurisdictions, the Georgia Code, and the dictionary to determine its meaning. Including a definitions section is an easy way to set out the agreed-upon meaning of a term throughout a contract, and should not be overlooked.
  2. Be Explicit: If there is a certain sibling or parent corporation that should be a beneficiary of a contract, consider listing the specific “affiliates” to which the contract or agreement should apply.
  3. Check Your State’s Code: The Court noted that the term “affiliate” is defined over 20 times in the Georgia Code, and the definitions vary. For example, in the context of financial institutions, an affiliate is an entity that controls the election of a majority of directors, trustees of a financial institution, or an entity that owns or controls 50 percent or more of the financial institution. O.C.G.A. § 7-1-4 (1). In Georgia’s Corporations Act, the definition of affiliate is broader: “a person that directly, or indirectly through one or more intermediaries, controls or is controlled by or is under common control with a specified person.” O.C.G.A. § 14-2-1110 (1).[2] Depending on the type of corporate entity, “affiliate” may not include every entity in a corporate structure, and certain rules regarding ownership and control may be relevant.

If you need help with this issue, or any other commercial law questions, Jake Carroll practices construction and commercial law, is licensed to practice in Georgia and Florida, and is a member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Construction Law and Tort and Catastrophic Loss practice groups. He represents corporations and manufacturers in a wide range of litigation and corporate matters involving breach of contract, business torts, and products liability claims. He can be reached at [email protected].

[1] 347 Ga. App. 480; 819 S.E.2d 903 (2018).
[2] See also O.C.G.A. § 18-2-71 (1) (B) (“Affiliate” has multiple definitions, including “[a] corporation 20 percent or more of whose outstanding voting securities are directly or indirectly owned, controlled, or held with power to vote by the debtor or a person who directly or indirectly owns, controls, or holds with power to vote 20 percent or more of the outstanding voting securities of the debtor[.] …”).

Protecting In-House Correspondence from Disclosure: The Troublesome “CC”

Posted on: November 28th, 2018

By: Jake Carroll

Commercial disputes present complex issues of causation—what caused the accident, who is responsible, what is impacting company revenue. But before the dispute even arises, in-house attorneys are frequently copied on correspondence with team members and employees evaluating and offering opinions on causation, performance, and potential costs. Then, when the dispute or accident ends up in litigation, the materials prepared by the employees are sought in discovery.

For example, what if an engineering firm learns that one of its employees improperly installed a part of the anti-corrosion system for a pipeline. The employee’s supervisor prepares an email detailing all instances of improperly installed systems in the last four (4) years by the employee and decides to cc in-house counsel. Is this email protected from disclosure if a lawsuit arises from the improperly installed pipe system?

Claims of privilege and work product are often asserted when an in-house attorney is included as a secondary recipient—or CC—on an email, raising the question of what exactly is covered by the attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine. Resolving these issues can be costly in their own right, and have the potential to derail an otherwise straightforward dispute.

While there are some exceptions, the general rule is that the communications where in-house attorneys are only CC’d are not protected from disclosure under either the attorney-client privilege or the work-product doctrine.[1]

The attorney-client privilege protects confidential communications that are sent for the purpose of securing legal advice.[2] However, when an email is neither addressed to the in-house attorney, nor sent directly to the attorney, it is unlikely that the privilege applies.[3] Similarly, the work-product doctrine protects correspondence or reports prepared in anticipation of litigation.[4] When an in-house attorney is only CC’d on correspondence, the emails are neither work performed by the in-house attorney, nor work prepared at the direction of the in-house attorney.[5] Additionally, many of these emails are typically sent prior to litigation and are not protected.

Businesses would do well to remember that simply copying your in-house attorney on an email will not shield its disclosure during discovery. The impact of this fact is far-reaching. In the example above, not only would the other side have an admission regarding the mislaid pipe from the supervisor, the email has also identified other projects where the business may be vulnerable to suit to a plaintiffs’ attorney.

If a company wishes for correspondence to be protected from disclosure, the following tips, though not exhaustive, are helpful:

  1. The sender of the email should direct correspondence to in-house counsel in a separate email—not by CC—and for the express purpose of seeking legal advice on a potential issue. For example, starting the email with “legal advice needed” or “request for legal advice” will go a long way to preserving the privilege and are more effective than “I have a question” or “see below.” Such requests should also be addressed specifically to the in-house attorney or an attorney on the legal team, rather than being directed to other employees with just a cc to the lawyer.
  2. To protect the privilege when using emails, avoid communications with both business and legal purposes as much as possible.
  3. Limit long email chains. Besides being good business practice, in-house counsel should not let privileged discussions continue in a long email chain. Inevitably, as the discussion continues, the topic may stray away from the original question and new people may be added to the email string—risking the privilege protection.

Protecting the attorney–client privilege and work-product privilege requires sound policies and procedures, a properly trained workforce and constant vigilance from the in-house attorney. But business that put procedures in place on the front end will find it well worth their time if and when a dispute arises.

If you need help with this issue, or any other commercial law questions, Jake Carroll practices construction and commercial law, is licensed to practice in Georgia and Florida, and is a member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Construction Law and Tort & Catastrophic Loss practice groups. He represents corporations and manufacturers in a wide range of litigation and corporate matters involving breach of contract, business torts, and products liability claims. He can be reached at [email protected].

 

 

[1] Minebea Co. v. Papst, 228 F.R.D. 13, 21 (D.D.C. 2005) (“A corporation cannot be permitted to insulate its files from discovery simply by sending a ‘cc’ to in-house counsel.”) (quoting USPS v. Phelps Dodge Refining Corp., 852 F.Supp. 156, 163-64 (E.D.N.Y.1994)).
[2] See e.g. Upjohn Co. v. U. S., 449 U.S. 383, 394-95 (1981).
[3] Id. at 394; In re Seroquel Prods. Liability Litig., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39467, 2008 WL 1995058, at *4 (May 7, 2008) (explaining that “[t]here is general agreement that the protection of the privilege applies only if the primary or predominate purpose of the attorney-client consultation is to seek legal advice or assistance”) (quoting Paul R. Rice, Attorney-Client Privilege in the United States § 7:5).
[4] The work-product privilege is derived from the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Hickman v. Taylor, 29 U.S. 495, 510-11, 67 S. Ct. 385, 393 (1947), and is codified in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3).
[5] See Cox v. Adm’r U.S. Steel & Carnegie, 17 F.3d 1386, 1421-22 (11th Cir. 1994), opinion modified on reh’g, 30 F.3d 1347 (11th Cir. 1994) (recognizing that the work-product privilege protects from discovery “materials that reflect an attorney’s mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories” that were prepared in anticipation of litigation and intended to remain confidential); cf. Hickman, 329 U.S. at 511, 67 S.Ct. at 393; Upjohn, 449 U.S. at 399, 101 S.Ct. at 687.

An Examination of the Interpretation of Free Recreation

Posted on: October 15th, 2018

By: Kevin Stone

In Georgia, if property is open free of charge for recreational purposes, the landowner is normally immune from liability for injuries occurring on the property.  A court can decide this as a matter of law without sending the case to a jury.  When sales occur on such property, however, a court may require a jury to decide whether the property’s use is “purely recreational,” rather than commercial.  This creation of a jury issue exists even if the sales are by private vendors and the landowner receives no payment.

For example, the Court of Appeals recently found that a free concert—at which concert-goers had the option of buying concessions from outside vendors (that did not pay the property owner), and where the event may have created a marketing benefit for the landowner—was considered to have both recreational and commercial purposes.  The result being that a jury, not a judge, had to resolve the issue of the property owner’s primary purpose for the property.  This interpretation of the law allows a commercial classification even though property is open for free for recreation.

This seems at odds with the purpose of the Recreational Property Act: “to encourage property owners to make their property available to the public for recreational purposes.”  In a concurrence, Chief Judge Dillard made the keen observation that a fair interpretation of the Act strongly suggests that the only relevant economic consideration is whether an admission fee is charged.  In such a case, the immunity would apply.

The Georgia Supreme Court has decided to weigh in and granted certiorari on these issues.  The Court’s examination will provide clarification for landowners who allow free access for recreation but also allow the public the option of making purchases.  We will continue to follow this case and keep you updated with the Court’s explanation.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Kevin Stone 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].