When Things Are Not “Business as Usual”: COVID-19 and Contract Defenses

Michael R. Darbee, Jonathan M. Korn, and Adrienne C. Rogove

The coronavirus COVID-19 health crisis has interfered with ongoing and future business arrangements throughout New Jersey. As a result, New Jersey businesses that are parties to existing contracts may have rights in the event that they, or their counterparty, are unable to meet their obligations due to COVID-19. There are several legal doctrines that New Jersey businesses may look to in these situations, including impossibility, impracticability, frustration of purpose, and force majeure.

Generally, contract liability is strict liability. This means that a party who breaches a contract is liable for damages even without fault. See Restatement (Second) of Contracts, ch. 11, Introductory Note. However, a party may be able to invoke impossibility, impracticability, frustration of purpose, or force majeure to excuse its failure to perform its contract obligations based on an unforeseen supervening event. Continue reading “When Things Are Not “Business as Usual”: COVID-19 and Contract Defenses”

Blank Rome Obtains Dismissal of Putative Class Action for Legal Malpractice against Texas Law Firms

On behalf of four Texas law firms, Blank Rome on March 24, 2020, successfully obtained a dismissal of a putative legal malpractice class action in Gore, et al. v. Bruce Nagel, et al., filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging that the law firms violated New Jersey Court Rule 1:21-7 by charging excessive contingency fees. Plaintiffs did not allege that the Texas law firms provided incorrect advice. In underlying personal injury litigation, the Texas law firms represented Debbie Gore, a Texas resident, and Doris Lance-Smith, an Alabama resident, against Ethicon, the manufacturer of pelvic mesh products for injuries sustained after surgical implantation of these products. On May 21, 2013, and June 2, 2012, respectively, Texas resident Gore and Alabama resident Lance-Smith, entered into retainer agreements with Texas counsel to pursue their mesh claims against Ethicon. Both Plaintiffs agreed to pay a 40 percent contingency fee, and allowed their counsel to associate with other law firms without increasing the required fee. Gore’s Retainer Agreement stated that Texas law governs and that any claims “arising under [the Gore Retainer] must be filed only in a court of competent jurisdiction in Harris County, Houston, Texas.” Lance-Smith’s Retainer Agreement did not have a choice of law provision. The Plaintiffs had sustained injuries in their home states after being implanted with the allegedly defective mesh products. Continue reading “Blank Rome Obtains Dismissal of Putative Class Action for Legal Malpractice against Texas Law Firms”

COVID-19 Resources for New Jersey Individuals and Businesses

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) is impacting businesses and public life in New Jersey and around the world. From supply chain disruption, government-ordered closures, and event cancellations to employee safety concerns and social distancing recommendations, every company is facing its own unique challenges in the face of the uncertainties surrounding this global pandemic.

How Can We Help

Blank Rome’s Princeton office, as well as Blank Rome’s Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force (“Task Force”), is monitoring this ever-changing situation and is here to help. The Task Force is an interdisciplinary group of the Firm’s attorneys with decades of experience helping companies and individuals respond to the legal fallout from disruptive crises and disasters.

Our multifaceted team includes insurance recovery, labor & employment, maritime, litigation, corporate, real estate, and cybersecurity & data privacy attorneys prepared to analyze your issues from every conceivable angle to ensure a holistic, complete, and comprehensive approach to your specific needs and issues. Our Princeton attorneys are ready to assist New Jersey businesses that must respond and prepare for an evolving public health emergency.

Latest Executive Order

You can download or view the most recent Executive Order from Governor Phil Murphy of the State of New Jersey setting forth what business are deemed essential and permitted to remain operating.

Stay Informed and Updated

Our Task Force continues to update businesses on these and other emerging issues in this rapidly developing legal landscape and has developed helpful and practical preparedness guidance; answers to common questions; and other materials for both individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19.

Links to our most recent guides can be found below:

For the latest updates and to see all our COVID-19 resources, please visit our Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force page regularly or subscribe to receive our digest published twice a week.

Third Circuit Adopts Rule That Removal of State Litigation to Federal Court Does Not Confer Personal Jurisdiction over the Defendant

Adrienne C. Rogove

In the last few years, the United States Supreme Court and federal courts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have provided additional guidance on what circumstances give rise to personal jurisdiction over foreign Defendants. The Third Circuit addressed the issue of consent to jurisdiction in Danziger & DeLlano v. Morgan Verkamp, LLC, in its January 15, 2020, decision where it held that removing a case to federal court is not a waiver of the defense of personal jurisdiction. In Danziger, two law firms were engaged in a dispute over whether the plaintiff firm was entitled to a referral fee following the defendant firm’s settlement of a qui tam action allegedly referred by the Plaintiff Danziger (“Danziger”).

Danziger is a Texas law firm. Danziger alleged it referred potential qui tam clients to Morgan and Verkamp, LLC (“Morgan Verkamp”), an Ohio law firm. Danziger claimed it formed an oral contract with Morgan Verkamp to collect one-third of the attorneys’ fees as a referral fee in connection with a qui tam case filed on behalf of Michael Epp. The Epp case was settled for “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Danziger & DeLlano v. Morgan Verkamp, LLC, __ F.3d __ (3d Cir. 2020) (slip op. at 4). Continue reading “Third Circuit Adopts Rule That Removal of State Litigation to Federal Court Does Not Confer Personal Jurisdiction over the Defendant”

A Paralegal Is Guilty of the Unauthorized Practice of Law by Preparing Documents for Litigation and Providing Legal Advice without Supervision by a Licensed New Jersey Attorney

Adrienne C. Rogove

New Jersey court rules and statutes prohibit the unauthorized practice of law. While paralegals engage in activities that constitute the “practices of law,” they can only do so under the direct supervision of a licensed New Jersey attorney. R.P.C. 5.3. The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, recently addressed this issue in an unreported decision dated November 21, 2019, in Baron v. Karmin Paralegal Services, __ N.J. Super. __ (2019) (slip. op.). In Baron, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, affirmed the decision of the Superior Court, Law Division, Special Civil Part, which held that the defendant paralegal company, Karmin Paralegal Services, committed fraud by performing legal services on behalf of the plaintiff, John Baron. While the Appellate Division reversed that part of the trial court’s decision awarding punitive damages to the plaintiff, the Court’s guidance on what constitutes the “practice of law” and the implications under New Jersey’s Rules of Professional Conduct are important to both the legal community and New Jersey consumers of legal services. Continue reading “A Paralegal Is Guilty of the Unauthorized Practice of Law by Preparing Documents for Litigation and Providing Legal Advice without Supervision by a Licensed New Jersey Attorney”

Personal Jurisdiction and Internet Transactions

Jonathan M. Korn and Michael R. Darbee

In a recent case, the New Jersey Appellate Division addressed whether an Internet transaction between a New Jersey buyer and California seller exposed the seller to a New Jersey lawsuit initiated by the buyer.

The case, Jardim v. Overley, involved the sale of a vintage car. The seller, Overley, is a California resident. On May 2, 2018, he listed a 1960 Buick Invicta for sale on the website Hemmings.com, a marketplace used to list cars for sale. Overley explained in a certification that he is not in the business of selling cars and does not regularly conduct business over the Internet. The buyer, Jardim, is in the business of selling used cars and has an office in New Jersey. Jardim v. Overley, __ N.J. Super. __ (2019) (slip op. at 3–4).

On May 26, 2018, Jardim, through his business associate, e-mailed Overley and offered to purchase the car. In a series of e-mail and telephone communications over a two-day period, the parties negotiated and agreed on a purchase price. Once the price was set, the parties executed a bill of sale. Jardim arranged to have the car shipped from California to New Jersey, and on June 25, 2018, he received the car in New Jersey. Id. at 4–8.

When the car arrived, Jardim discovered that it was not in the condition Overley had advertised. He filed a lawsuit in the Law Division, alleging claims for breach of warranty, unjust enrichment, fraud, and consumer fraud. The trial court, however, dismissed Jardim’s claims for lack of personal jurisdiction over the seller. It reasoned that the parties’ contact was an isolated occurrence and that their negotiations did not create “sufficient minimum contacts with New Jersey to attach personal jurisdiction to Overley.” Id. at 8–9. Continue reading “Personal Jurisdiction and Internet Transactions”

Hiring in New Jersey? Salary History Ban Sprouts in Garden State

Thomas J. Szymanski

Effective January 1, 2020, private employers in New Jersey are prohibited from asking job applicants about their salary, wage, and benefit history and are not permitted to make hiring decisions based on that information. Employers will also be prohibited from requiring that an applicant’s salary history satisfy certain minimum or maximum requirements.

There are notable exceptions to this prohibition, which include the following:

      1. If an applicant “voluntarily, without employer prompting or coercion,” discloses salary or wage information, the employer may verify whether the information was accurate and use the information to determine compensation to be paid to the applicant;
      2. An employee is applying for internal transfer or promotion with a current employer;
      3. Actions taken by an employer pursuant to a federal law or regulation that expressly requires the disclosure or verification of salary history for employment purposes; and
      4. After an offer of employment has been made that includes an explanation of the overall compensation package, an employer may confirm an applicant’s salary history upon the applicant’s written authorization.

Employers who violate the law can be fined up to $1,000 for a first offense, $5,000 for a second offense, and $10,000 for violations thereafter.

Please contact a member of Blank Rome’s Labor & Employment practice group if you have any questions about compliance with New Jersey’s salary and wage ban or any other employment issues.