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Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey’

Revisiting the Applicability of the Entire Controversy Doctrine to Legal Malpractice Claims

Posted on: April 2nd, 2019

By: Nicole Graham

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently revisited the applicability of the entire controversy doctrine as it relates to legal malpractice claims. In Dimitrakopoulos v. Borrus, Goldin, Foley, Vignuolo, Hyman and Stahl, P.C., 2019 N.J. LEXIS 272, 219 WL 1065049 (N.J. 2019), the client asserted a claim for legal malpractice against the law firm three years after a default judgment was entered against the client in a collection action the law firm had previously filed. The law firm moved to dismiss based on the entire controversy doctrine because the legal malpractice claim was not raised as a counterclaim in the collection action. The clients claimed they were not obligated to assert a malpractice claim in the collection action because (1) the statute of limitations on the malpractice claim had not run and (2) they did not know during the pendency of the collection action that the law firm had committed malpractice. The clients argued they were representing themselves in the collection and as pro se litigants could not identify a malpractice claim. They further claimed that requiring a pro se litigant to identify malpractice claim is contrary to public policy.  The law firm argued the client did know about their claim as evidenced by their answer to the collection action complaint in which they alleged there were billed for legal work that was unnecessary and contrary to their direction.

The trial court dismissed the legal malpractice claim finding it was precluded by the entire controversy doctrine. The appellate court affirmed. The New Jersey State Bar Association filed an amicus brief and argued that unless the entire controversy applied, no attorney’s collection judgment would be considered final because the client would be permitted to bring a malpractice claim at a later stage.

The New Jersey Supreme Court reiterated its holding in Olds v. Donnelly, 150 N.J. 424, 443, 696 A.2d 633 (1997), that the entire controversy doctrine does not compel a client to assert a legal malpractice claim against an attorney in the underlying litigation in which the attorney represents the client. The Court noted, however, a collection action brought by a law firm against its client for unpaid legal fees does not constitute “underlying litigation” because the lawyer and client are already adverse and, therefore, such litigation does not raise the privilege and loyalty concerns that warrant the exception to the entire controversy doctrine recognized in Olds. Therefore, a court may apply the entire controversy doctrine to preclude a later filed legal malpractice claim the client declined to assert in the attorney’s action to collect unpaid legal fees.

Such preclusion is not absolute. The entire controversy doctrine is an equitable doctrine whose application is left to judicial discretion based on the factual circumstances of individual cases. The client can avoid preclusion by demonstrating the prior forum did not afford a fair and reasonable opportunity to have fully litigated the malpractice claim. The court may consider such issues as the steps required to investigate, file and prosecute the malpractice claim in that forum, the status of the collection action when the malpractice claim accrued, the time constraints imposed by the rules of court, and the prospect of obtaining extensions of time to litigate the malpractice claim. A client may also avoid preclusion if he or she did not know, and should not have reasonably known, of the existence of the malpractice claim during the pendency of the collection action.

The New Jersey Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court to determine when the legal malpractice claim accrued and whether the malpractice claimants would have had a fair and reasonable opportunity to have fully litigated their claim in the collection action.

When defending a legal malpractice claim where the defendant law firm previously litigated a collection action for unpaid fees, it is not enough to argue the entire controversy doctrine bars the claim. The defendant law firm must also prove the client knew or should have reasonably known of the existence of the claim during the pendency of the collection action, and that the forum in which the collection action was pending would have provided the client a fair and reasonable opportunity to fully litigate the malpractice claim.

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

Phony Fakes Fall (Allegedly)

Posted on: February 15th, 2019

By: Kevin Stone

The fictional Mike Moffitt famously called Jerry Seinfeld a phony. The reasons remain unknown. A non-fictional New Jersey man, however, appears to be a bona fide phony. Surveillance video of a company breakroom appears to capture the man throwing ice on the floor and then gently laying down next to it. He then filed an insurance claim for the ambulance ride and hospital treatment that followed the “fall.” Unlike the fall, the filing of the claim may actually harm him, as he was arrested for filing a false claim.

This incident is a great reminder to maintain surveillance cameras where appropriate. Cases often come down to the credibility of the plaintiff. But cameras don’t lie.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Kevin Stone at (770) 303-8643 or [email protected].

“Sanctuary Cities” Get a Reprieve For Now

Posted on: January 10th, 2019

By: Pamela Everett

As many city, county and state attorneys are aware, in 2017 the US. Department of Justice (DOJ) added three conditions to the application process for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (“Byrne JAG”) program in an effort to eliminate so called sanctuary cities. The Byrne JAG program originated from the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968,  which created grants to assist the law enforcement efforts of state and local authorities. Under the Byrne JAG program, states and localities may apply for funds to support criminal justice programs in a variety of categories, including law enforcement, prosecution, crime prevention, corrections, drug treatment, technology, victim and witness services, and mental health.

The first condition, called the “Notice Condition” requires grantees, upon request, to give advance notice to the Department of Homeland Security of the scheduled release date and time of aliens housed in state or local correctional facilities. The second condition, called the “Access Condition,” requires grantees to give federal agents access to aliens in state or local correctional facilities in order to question them about their immigration status. The third condition, called the “Compliance Condition” requires grantees to certify their compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373, which prohibits states and localities from restricting their officials from communicating with immigration authorities regarding anyone’s citizenship or immigration status. Grantees are also required to monitor any subgrantees’ compliance with the three conditions, and to notify DOJ if they become aware of credible evidence of a violation of the Compliance Condition. Additionally, all grantees must certify their compliance with the three conditions, which carries the risk of criminal prosecution, civil penalties, and administrative remedies. The DOJ also requires the jurisdictions’’ legal counsel to certify compliance with the conditions.

A number of jurisdictions have sued the DOJ and the U. S. Attorney General regarding these new conditions and sought a nationwide injunction; however, so far, none have  been successful in obtaining a nationwide injunction.  Recently a partial win was handed to the states of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and Commonwealths of Massachusetts and Virginia and the City of New York. The States and the City challenged the imposition of the three conditions on five bases: (1) the conditions violates the separation of powers, (2) the conditions were ultra vires under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), (3) the conditions were not in accordance with law under the APA, (4) the conditions were arbitrary and capricious under the APA, and (5) § 1373 violated the Tenth Amendment’s prohibition on commandeering.  This case challenged the authority of the Executive Branch of the federal government to compel states to adopt its preferred immigration policies by imposing conditions on congressionally authorized funding to which the states are otherwise entitled.

While the court held that the plaintiffs did not make a sufficient showing of nationwide impact to demonstrate that a nationwide injunction was necessary to provide relief to them, it did find as follows: (1) The Notice, Access, and Compliance Conditions were ultra vires and not in accordance with law under the APA. (2) 8 U.S.C. § 1373(a)–(b), insofar as it applies to states and localities, is facially unconstitutional under the anticommandeering doctrine of the Tenth Amendment. (3)  The Notice, Access, and Compliance Conditions violated the constitutional separation of powers. (4)The Notice, Access, and Compliance Conditions were arbitrary and capricious under the APA.  (5) The DOJ was mandated to reissue the States’ FY 2017 Byrne JAG award documents without the Notice, Access, or Compliance Conditions, and upon acceptance to disburse those awards as they would in the ordinary course without regard to those conditions.  Additionally, the DOJ was prohibited from imposing or enforcing the Notice, Access, or Compliance Conditions for FY 2017 Byrne JAG funding for the States, the City, or any of their agencies or political subdivisions.

The DOJ was prohibited from imposing or enforcing the Notice, Access, or Compliance Conditions for FY 2017 Byrne JAG funding for the States, the City, or any of their agencies or political subdivisions.

There are several other cases pending, including one filed by the City of San Francisco, seeking the issuance of a nationwide injunction to prohibit the enforcement of the new conditions. Stay tuned for more developments in this area.

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

 

Related litigation: City of Chicago v. Sessions, 264 F. Supp. 3d 933 (N.D. Ill. 2017); affd. appeal, City of Chicago v. Sessions, 888 F.3d 272 (7th Cir. 2018), but later stayed the nationwide scope of the injunction pending en banc review. Conference City of Evanston v. Sessions, No. 18 Civ. 4853, slip op. at 11 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 9, 2018) City of Philadelphia v. Sessions, 280 F. Supp. 3d 579 (E.D. Pa. 2017); City of Philadelphia v. Sessions, 309 F. Supp. 3d 289 (E.D. Pa. 2018)(currently on appeal); California ex rel. Becerra v. Sessions, 284 F. Supp. 3d 1015 (N.D. Cal. 2018)

 

Arbitration Agreements in New Jersey Need More Details

Posted on: November 16th, 2018

By: Chris Curci

On November 13, 2018, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, issued an important decision holding that an arbitration agreement between the employer and employee was not enforceable. Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc., Docket No. L-6238-17.  The arbitration agreement read:

Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s] employment, the termination thereof, or otherwise arising between [plaintiff] and [defendant] shall, in lieu of a jury or other civil trial, be settled by final and binding arbitration. This agreement to arbitrate includes all claims whether arising in tort or contract and whether arising under statute or common law including, but not limited to, any claim of breach of contract, discrimination or harassment of any kind.

According to the Appellate Division, this agreement was unenforceable because it “failed to identify the general process for selecting an arbitration mechanism.” What exactly does that mean?

In its effort to clarify this standard, the Appellate Division stated that an employer is not required to “detail in the arbitration agreement the exact manner in which the arbitration” will proceed. However, an employer must identify the “forum” for the arbitration and clearly explain how the employee’s judicial rights to a jury trial are being replaced by the arbitration rights.

For example, the Court noted that it would be sufficient for an employer to (1) identify a forum such as the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) or the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (“JAMS”), and (2) adopt that forum’s rules and procedures. The Court opined that this would be sufficient because AAA and JAMS’s rules and procedures address numerous procedural issues, such as: (1) notification requirements, (2) how to initiate proceedings, (3) management conferences, (4) discovery, (5) the location of the hearings, (6) the number of arbitrators, (7) how to communicate with the arbitrator, (8) attendance requirements, (9) dispositive motions, (10) evidence, (11) modification of awards, (12) and applications for fees, expenses and costs.

In other words, while the arbitration agreement is not required to “detail the exact manner in which the arbitration will proceed,” an employer must specifically identify a forum such as AAA or JAMS and incorporate that forum’s rules and procedures. This allows the employee to fully understand how his or her judicial rights to a jury trial are being replaced by arbitration.

Employers should review their employee arbitration agreements to ensure their enforceability. If you need help with this or any other employment related question, Chris Curci practices Labor & Employment law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is a member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Labor and Employment Law National Practice Section. He represents employers in litigation and advises clients on all aspects of employment law. He can be reached at [email protected].

Coffee, Water, Less Than 20 Minutes

Posted on: June 19th, 2018

SCOTUS KICKS THE CAN ON SHORT BREAKS COMPENSATION

By: John McAvoy

On June 11, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to entertain the appeal of a Pennsylvania employer that could have resolved the emerging split of authority between the federal appellate courts and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) as to the compensability of employees’ short rest breaks.

In American Future Systems, Inc. d/b/a Progressive Business Publications v. R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, the Secretary of Labor filed suit against Progressive Business Publications, a company that publishes and distributes business publications and sells them through its sales representatives, as well as the company’s owner, alleging they violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by paying their salespeople an hourly wage and bonuses based on their number of sales per hour while they were logged onto the computer at their workstations, and by not paying them if they were logged off for more than 90 seconds.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania previously found that the employer’s policy had violated the FLSA, relying on a DOL regulation which states that “[r]est periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes, are common in industry.  They promote the efficiency of the employee and are customarily paid for as working time.  They must be counted as hours worked.”  In so holding, the District Court found that the employer was liable for at least $1.75 million in back wages and damages.

On appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the employer argued that that it provided “flex time” rather than “breaks,” which allowed workers to clock out whenever they wanted, for any reason.  In other words, that the employees were not “working” after they logged off of their computers since they could do anything they wanted, including leaving the office.  The appellate court rejected this argument, reasoning that to dock the pay of employees who can’t manage a bathroom sprint is “absolutely contrary to the FLSA,” and affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Third Circuit’s reliance on DOL regulation was contrary to the holdings of some of the other circuit courts which opted to assess the circumstances of the break in lieu of interpreting the DOL regulation as a bright-line rule that fails to take into consideration the facts of a particular situation.

The employer asked the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify how compensability for breaks should be determined.  Citing the circuit split, the employer posited that the question of break pay should be determined by assessing the circumstances of the break, rather than adopting the DOL regulation as a bright-line rule.  In its reply brief, the DOL fervently defended its regulations and denied the existence of the alleged circuit split, arguing that “hours worked [are] not limited to the time an employee actually performs his or her job duties.”  Unfortunately, this remains an issue for another day as the Supreme Court refused to hear the case and/or resolve the alleged split.

Absent a decision from the Supreme Court to the contrary, employers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are bound by the Third Circuit’s decision. As such, employers in these states must continue to comply with DOL regulations with respect to the compensability of short breaks.

Fortunately, the applicable DOL regulations are designed to protect employers’ rights. For starters, the regulations recognize that meal periods serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks and, as such, are not compensable.  Second, an employer need not count an employee’s unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer’s rules, and any extension of the break will be punished.

Although an employer will have to compensate an employee who repeatedly takes unauthorized breaks lasting less than 20 minutes in order to comply with the Third Circuit’s ruling and the applicable DOL regulations, the employer is nevertheless free to discipline the employee for such indiscretions by whatever means the employer deems appropriate, including termination.

Prudent employers should prepare themselves to address such issues through smart planning and proper training of employees, including managers, supervisors and HR personnel to ensure the employer’s break, discipline, and termination policies and procedures comply with all applicable DOL regulations.

Want to know whether your company’s break, discipline, and termination policies and procedures comply with DOL regulations? Let me help. Please call or email me (215.789.4919; [email protected]).