Entrepreneurial Inmate Loses Lawsuit

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Jail (pd)While pro se lawsuits by prisoners are not unusual, you don't see ones like Tormasi v. Hayman every day.

In Tormasi, plaintiff sued several officials from the prison in which he was serving a life sentence. In the lawsuit, he claimed that they improperly seized his intellectual property assets and corporate records. As the Appellate Division explained: "During his incarceration, plaintiff acquired various intellectual property assets, which he assigned to Advanced Data Solutions Corporation (ADS) in exchange for sole ownership of the corporation." At some point during his incarceration, prison officials seized plaintiff's personal property, including: "1) miscellaneous corporate paperwork related to ADS . . 2) patent-prosecution documents; 3) an unfiled provisional patent application; 4) several floppy diskettes; and 5) various legal correspondence." Plaintiff sued in federal court, asserting a claim under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, various federal civil rights claims, and a state law claim for inverse condemnation.

 

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Thank You, Captain Obvious — It Is Improper To Throw Your Records In A Dumpster In Advance Of A Lawsuit

 by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

When most litigators hear the term “spoliation” nowadays, they probably think of emails, servers, document retention policies, and back-up tapes. But the Appellate Division recently reminded us that old-fashioned spoliation is still alive and well (and improper).

In Hess Corporation v. American Gardens Management Company, plaintiff sued various single-purpose entities with which plaintiff had contracted to sell oil and gas. Plaintiff also sued the individual owner of all of these entities, which were essentially judgment proof, arguing that it was entitled to pierce the corporate veil and hold him liable because he had co-mingled funds and fraudulently conveyed and diverted assets from the various corporate entities for his personal use.

During discovery, plaintiff served the individual defendant with a document request. The individual defendant failed to respond and his answer was stricken. He later moved to reinstate his answer, first arguing that he could not answer the discovery request without implicating his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination (which the court rejected) and then claiming that he did not have many of the documents requested. Based on the latter, the court vacated its prior order and reinstated his answer.

 

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In Life, There Are No [Personal] Guarantees (Especially When They Are Buried In An Ambiguous Provision Of A Contract)

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

In a recent unpublished decision, the Law Division refused to enforce a purported personal guarantee in a commercial contract. Individuals and entities that include such guarantees in their contracts with customers should read the decision (or just continue reading below).

In Century Star Fuel Corp. v. Jaffe, defendant entered into a contract with plaintiff whereby defendant obtained a line of credit from plaintiff that defendant could use to purchase heating oil from plaintiff. The one-page contract, which was prepared by plaintiff, contained a single signature line for defendant’s president to sign on behalf of defendant. It also contained what the court described as “boilerplate language” providing the following: “Applicant . . . agrees and acknowledges that the person who signs this Application has the Authority to do so; and Personally Guarantees all present and future extensions of credit.” Defendant was identified as the “Applicant” in the signature line. Plaintiff alleged that this clause was unambiguous and rendered defendant’s president personally liable for defendant’s debts. Defendant disagreed and argued that the clause was unenforceable because its president never intended to be personally bound. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court sided with defendant.

 

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