By: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)
You know it’s “award season” – at least the legal world’s version of it – when your social media starts to fill up with posts that sound like this: “So honored to be included as one of the ‘Worlds Most Awesome Patent Lawyers’ with 43 other members of my firm.” The question for New Jersey lawyers is whether otherwise innocent humblebrags like this actually run afoul of our Rules of Professional Conduct. Somewhat surprisingly, most of these posts do.
Under RPC 7.1, lawyers cannot make false or misleading statements about their services. It used to be that any statements comparing one lawyer’s services to other lawyers’ services were deemed false and misleading. And since superlatives like “best,” “super,” “preeminent,” “distinguished,” “top,” “leading,” and “top-rated” are inherently comparative, this meant that no lawyer could advertise that they were included on a list of, for example, “New Jersey’s Best Lawyers.”
This changed about a decade ago when RPC 7.1 was amended to allow attorneys to advertise about winning comparative/superlative awards like this, but only if: “(i) the name of the comparing organization is stated, (ii) the basis for the comparison can be substantiated, and (iii) the communication includes the following disclaimer in a readily discernible manner: ‘No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.’”
Continue reading “So can I call myself a Super Lawyer or not? Either way, can I still wear my cape?”
By: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)
Just before the pandemic turned nearly all New Jersey courtrooms virtual, the Appellate Division issued its decision in Pathri v. Kakarlamath, which dealt with the standards trial courts should use to assess a party’s request to appear remotely for trial. I wrote about it here “Before Applying a 30-Year Old Decision to Modern Technology, A New Jersey Court References A Musical From the 1890’s.” Who knew at the time how timely that decision would become?
Now the Appellate Division has revisited the issue (minus theatrical references). In D.M.R. v. M.K.G., the Appellate Division acknowledged the issues courts have faced since Pathri , and addressed the challenge of ensuring that remote hearings are as fair as possible:
Little did we know that within two months our entire court system would begin to rapidly transform from in-person to virtual court proceedings, utilizing various remote video and telephonic platforms, in an effort to continue operations amid the social distancing measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, New Jersey Courts have operated primarily remotely via platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and telephone conferences, with the goal of preserving the quality of justice our courts have traditionally striven to provide when court was conducted in-person. Trial courts and staff have undertaken a herculean effort in rising to this unprecedented challenge. However, despite their efforts, the formality of the courtroom can fall away. Everyone may not have the same access to technology. These proceedings often involve unrepresented litigants unfamiliar with court proceedings, which presents its own challenges now amplified by the virtual proceeding. Moreover, judges do not have the same mechanisms to control the proceeding that they would have in a live courtroom
It was “through this lens” that the Appellate Division addressed the issues in D.M.R.
Continue reading “Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Only One Witness In The Room (For Remote Trial Testimony)”
by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)
Maybe it is because I was a journalism major in college, but I am a sucker for a good lede. The district court’s decision in West v. Emig has a great one. It begins:
Christopher H. West is an inmate who has frequently ingested inedible objects. During his incarceration, he has eaten the foam from inside his mattress, and he has also swallowed writing instruments, including pens. This case is about the mattress and a pen.
I was hooked, but then it got even more interesting.
Plaintiff claimed that, at two different prisons, employees removed the mattress from his cell “after he ingested foam from inside [the] mattresses.” Instead of following the grievance policy, which is typically required before an inmate can sue, West sued two former prison employees in federal court in Delaware, seeking $5 million in damages from each. He argued that he could not pursue his administrative remedies because, you guessed it, “the prisons denied him a pen needed to complete the prison grievance form – albeit for his own safety.” In other words, they removed his mattress because he ate the mattress foam, but he could not file a grievance about that because they previously removed his pen because he had a habit of eating his pens.
When plaintiff sued, defendants moved for summary judgment. They raised four defenses, including failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The district court only addressed that defense, and granted defendants’ motion based on it. Plaintiff appealed, and the Third Circuit reversed.
Continue reading ““This case is about the mattress and a pen””
by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)
I don’t usually write about personal jurisdiction because it is . . . well . . . a little boring. But I do enjoy creative legal arguments (including creative arguments about jurisdiction), so I am going to make an exception here.
The Third Circuit recently issued its decision in in Robinson v. Section 23 Property Owner’s Association, Inc., which is the latest in what appears to be a running battle between plaintiff and more than two dozen defendants arising out of the foreclosure of defendant’s mother’s home. The district court described the various lawsuits plaintiff filed as follows:
The subject of all of [plaintiff’s] cases, including this case, arises out of his residence at his mother’s home in Florida. Beginning with disputes over the enforcement of deed restrictions, such as parking and property maintenance, Plaintiff’s cases have evolved into claims against essentially every person or entity that has been involved either directly or indirectly in the ultimate foreclosure of the . . . house and his resulting eviction from the property. The main thrust of Plaintiff’s claims is that all the Defendants have conspired to illegally purchase his mother’s home and steal all of his personal and intellectual property inside. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have done so to quash his investigation of their international money laundering and fraud scheme.
If this sounds like a Florida-centric dispute, it is. None of the defendants had any meaningful connection to New Jersey, so they all moved to dismiss plaintiff’s lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction. In response, plaintiff made several, traditional jurisdictional arguments, including that defendants were subject to jurisdiction in New Jersey because his mother currently lived in New Jersey and because she had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey and listed the Florida property as an asset in her bankruptcy petition.
Continue reading “Third Circuit Answers The Question: Can a Texan Living In Georgia Sue Two Dozen Florida Defendants In New Jersey Federal Court?”
by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)
Keith Richards once said: “I look for ambiguity when I’m writing because life is ambiguous.” This would probably be number one on the list of things a lawyer would never say. Lawyers generally do not like ambiguity. Courts don’t like it either, including the U.S. Supreme Court, and including when it evaluates the availability of class arbitration under an arbitration agreement. Several years ago, in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., the Supreme Court held that courts could not compel class arbitration when the underlying agreement was “silent” on the issue. In Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, the U.S. Supreme Court extended this holding to ambiguous agreements, holding that class arbitration is not available under an arbitration agreement that is ambiguous about the availability of such arbitration.
Plaintiff in Lamps Plus was a company that sold, you guessed it, “lighting fixtures and related products.” In 2016, the company suffered a data breach that revealed the tax information of approximately 1,300 of its employees. Soon after, a fraudulent tax return was filed in defendant’s name. He sued in California federal court on behalf of himself and a putative class of employees whose tax information had been compromised. But, like most of plaintiff’s employees, defendant had signed a broad arbitration agreement when he started working at the company. Thus, in response to defendant’s complaint, plaintiff moved to compel arbitration on an individual, not classwide, basis. The district court granted the motion to compel arbitration, but rejected plaintiff’s request for individual arbitration. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
The Ninth Circuit determined that the arbitration agreement was ambiguous on the issue of classwide arbitration. So it applied the state law doctrine of contra proferentem – an equitable principle under which any ambiguities in a contract are construed against the drafter – and construed this ambiguity against plaintiff. The Ninth Circuit held that Stolt-Nielsen was not controlling because the arbitration agreement in that case was silent on classwide arbitration, while the arbitration agreement in Lamps Plus was ambiguous on the issue. The Ninth Circuit used contra proferentum to resolve that ambiguity.
Continue reading “Supreme Court : Classwide Arbitration Unavailable Under Ambiguous Agreement”