The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
Patrick Austermuehle and Andrew Murphy were selected by Super Lawyers as Rising Stars
Published on:

It may be a first when class-action consumer litigation requires a Seventh Circuit panel to describe the step-by-step process of creating a Subway sandwich in a published opinion.

But that’s indeed what the court did in its recent ruling dismissing a class-action suit against the Subway fast-food chain; ham, provolone, pepper jack and all.

It all started in 2013 when an Australian teenager posted a photograph of his Subway “Footlong” sandwich next to a tape measure on his Facebook page. The sandwich measured only 11 inches. The post went viral and Subway customers in the U.S. began measuring their own sandwiches, and it was only a matter of time before the plaintiffs’ bar got in on the action.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers sued Subway, seeking damages and injunctive relief under state consumer-protection laws. The different cases were consolidated in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Subway’s defense was that because of deviations in the baking process, some rolls would inevitably shrink to under 12 inches, but all customers still received the same quantity of ingredients and most customers still got to enjoy a foot-long sandwich. Continue reading

Published on:

Posting online has become a norm in this tech savvy world that we live in.  For greater transparency in a review, some may choose to post anonymously in fear of ramifications if their name disclosure came about.  Just recently, the ability of an employer being able to find out which employee employer-rated an employer unfairly or inaccurately was assessed by the Courts. This is since some would argue that surely the law protects against outrageous false statements that harm an employer’s ability to recruit talent.  That is why a California appeals court recently ruled that businesses have to prove online comments are false and financially harmful before they can unmask anonymous critics via subpoenas.  It can thus be seen that the decision has First Amendment implications which safeguard people’s right to free speech and this was valued as being the greater consideration.

A suit under the anonymous posting was brought forwards for libel and for violating California law regarding online impersonation.  A request was placed for assistance from the courts in an ability to be able to retrieve the identity of the postings. Initially, the trial court turned the employer down and this was again examined by a California Court of Appeal.Subsequently, the lengthy opinion was issued and a conclusion was drawn indicating that to force a disclosure of the names, a plaintiff must state a legally sufficient cause of action comprising of the following elements of that cause of action:  (1) the courts determining these issues must ensure that reasonable efforts are made to notify the unknown defendants so they can respond and (2) the plaintiff’s pleading must specifically note the exact statements alleged to constitute defamation. Continue reading

Published on:

An engineer for vehicles was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment and will pay a $200,000 fine for emissions-cheating deception after cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in their criminal investigation of a conspiracy to defraud government officials and customers.

A pleading of being charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the U.S., committing wire fraud and violating the Clean Air Act for his role in helping vehicles evade emissions requirements with diesel-powered vehicles. As a result, the foreign national agreed to be removed from the U.S. following the prison term, according to prosecutors. The engineer initially moved to and settled in the U.S. to help launch diesel-powered vehicles and handle certification, testing, and warranty issues, prosecutors said.

Furthermore, the sentence imposed by the judge exceeded prosecutors’ recommendation. The initial request was that the accused receive three years imprisonment and a $20,000 fine. It was a stiffer sentence than expected, as the engineer only helped to create software that controlled exhaust emissions. The tough sentence sends a message that employees can and should be held accountable for misdeeds they commit for their corporate employers. Many individuals have not been held responsible for corporate misconduct and this is one of those rare cases; a stunning fraud on the American consumer, being a very serious and troubling crime against our economic system. Such incidences give rise to a reduced trust in corporate America and undermine the economy. As a result, the ruling sends a strong message even though he was not “mastermind” and never benefited financially from its development of devices that masked the high levels of harmful emissions. Continue reading

Published on:

Advertising name-brand products that don’t actually have anything to do with the brand being named is called false advertising. It’s illegal, not only because it causes potential harm to the brand whose name is being abused, but to consumers who are misled as a direct result of the false advertising.

Costco has allegedly been selling diamond engagement rings that were marked “Tiffany” rings, and Costco salespeople allegedly told customers the rings were “Tiffany” rings. Although the wholesale retailer has never sold jewelry from the famous Tiffany & Co., and has never used the company’s trademark blue boxes, the wholesale company does sell diamond rings with a pronged setting, which it claims is commonly known as a “Tiffany” setting.

The problem was that Costco did not call them “Tiffany setting” rings or “Tiffany-style” rings. It just called them “Tiffany” rings, which understandably led to some confusion.

Despite the fact that customers got upset when they realized the rings labeled “Tiffany” were not actually from the famous jewelry store, Costco allegedly still did not see a problem with how they were marketing their generic diamond engagement rings. Tiffany & Co. disagreed and sued the wholesale company for trademark infringement. Continue reading

Published on:

All contracts are subject to scrutiny before the law, especially when a dispute arises. Employment-employer disputes are no exception. Federal and state‑specific restrictions are
now facing employers who utilize non‑compete agreements and such agreements are able to be stricken for unrelated employment issues. This is since the Appellate Division of the New
Jersey Superior Court has provided a warning to an employer had no ability to prevent its former employee from working for its direct client despite the existence of a non‑compete
agreement expressly covering that client. This was of particular concern since the employee was not paid properly by the employer during her training period. It was because the
employment and non‑compete “agreements violated federal law, they were void and unenforceable.”

This brings to light notions such as the importance of fair and just contracts, as well as, the unconscionability. If ever a contract has an abuse of power or is in favor of one party over the
other, it will violate the law. The employers must take this into consideration when drafting terms and have them reviewed by attorneys who are familiar with restrictive covenants within
the scope of employment law. Continue reading

Published on:

Because freedom of speech is one of our most cherished rights in this country, it’s not easy to file claims for defamation.

Our founding fathers saw the value of being able to speak freely and openly to and about each other, especially when it comes to public figures. It is an essential ingredient for a democracy, which is why it’s the very first amendment ever made to our constitution, and one that is constantly invoked by all parties in just about every political discussion.

Because such a high value has been placed on free and open discussion of public figures, those public figures have a higher burden of proof to bear when filing claims of defamation. Not only do they have to prove that the statement(s) in question was false, but that the person/entity who made the statement knew it was false at the time they published it, and that they did so with the intention of inflicting harm (financial or otherwise) on the person in question. Continue reading

Published on:

The New York Times is reporting that consumers need to beware that flood vehicles will be dumped on the market due to the Hurricanes in Florida and Texas.  The article provides the following guidance on how to avoid purchasing a flood vehicle:

Consumer Reports has suggested tips for identifying cars that may have spent time underwater. A buyer or mechanic should look for these telltale signs:

■ Caked-on mud and a musty odor from the carpets. New carpets in an older vehicle may be another red flag.

■ A visible water line on the lens or reflector of the headlights.

■ Mud or debris trapped in difficult-to-clean places, such as gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood.

■ Rusty exposed screws under the dashboard. Unpainted metal in flood cars will show signs of rust.

■ Rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of doors that have been removed. That may have been done to drain floodwater.

The full New York Times article can be viewed here.

If you are the victim of purchasing a flooded vehicle, you can contact us and we will pursue litigation to return the vehicle or obtain money damages. Continue reading

Published on:

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)  processes such as Arbitration an alternative to turning to courts to resolve potentially costly commercial disputes. A preference for ADR lies within attempts to focus on the solution, ADR allows us to bypass a number of costly things.

Most Litigation teams, including this firms’,  has noticed that courts are struggling with budget cuts; an increase in fees and a decreased level of service.  However, this has not decreased the use of litigation.  Litigation is normally the last resort and costs much more than many parties anticipate.

This is one reason, for which, businesses look to arbitration, a private form of dispute resolution which can be used to resolve commercial disputes, instead. Most businesses would also agree that business is about avoiding friction, getting to the right result with less friction. That’s what ADR provides.

Astute attorneys will make the correct recommendations for their clients and will make all attempts to ensure that effective measures are in place in order to service their clients most effectively.  Hence, an approach requires the balancing of a preference for alternative dispute resolution with judgment on when a dispute simply needs to be fought out in court. One truly must be skilled enough to know the implementation of the strategy and of when to fight. That is why the incorporation of arbitration agreement clauses in contracts, leans towards ensuring that a dispute resolution process is ‘in-built’ into contracts, allowing both parties to continue to do business while an issue is resolved. What’s more, is that these clauses are easy to draw for those who have working knowledge and experience.  Arbitration simply isn’t used as often as it should be and sometimes attorneys are unfamiliar with the process, so it may not be considered.

Mediation is an area many are familiar with, but with arbitration, there is no need to offer a concession to those with whom the business is in dispute. A party may wish to negotiate, but can’t be compelled and a binding decision can be reached without the consent of the opponent.  Other advantages it has to offer include it being private, far more flexible, with a certain outcome reached by utilizing an expert in the sector the parties operate in.  The judgment is also not public, nor is the trial.  Courts only become involved if the losing party fails to comply with the arbitrator’s decision.  Continue reading

Published on:

Even those of us who have come to terms with the fact that companies and advertisers track everything we do online aren’t ready to compromise their children’s privacy. In fact, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal law that was put in place specifically to do exactly what it sounds like: protect the privacy of children when they’re online.

But Disney, along with some of its software partners, allegedly violated this law by embedding trackers in some of the entertainment company’s most popular apps that tracked users’ information and allegedly distributed it to other companies and advertisers. As an entertainment company that primarily targets children, many of the users whose information is being tracked and disseminated are children aged 13 and younger.

The lawsuit lists dozens of popular Disney apps, including Cars Lightening League and Maleficent Free Fall, that, once downloaded, allowed the trackers embedded in the apps to collect the information and then extract it from the smart devices so it could be disseminated for commercial purposes – all without the knowledge or consent of the children’s parents, the lawsuit claims.

According to Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Disney should not be using the software companies listed in the complaint. He says they involve heavy-duty technologies designed to track and monetize information on people, and as such, should not be working with a company that targets young children. Continue reading

Published on:

The bait and switch tactic of selling goods and services is a trick as old as time, but it’s not always legal. If a customer signs a contract agreeing to pay a particular price for something, it is expected that the price will not change for the duration of the contract, unless both parties agree to the change in writing. That change can happen, either as an amendment to the contract, or as part of a new contract.

According to a federal class action consumer lawsuit that was recently filed in California, Comcast allegedly lured new cable customers with promises of low rates, which they then jacked up without warning or gaining consent from their customers. The fees in question are: the “Broadcast TV Fee,” which allegedly went from $1.50/month in 2014 to $6.50/month in 2016; and the “Regional Sports Fee,” which allegedly went from $1/month in 2015 to $4.50 in 2016.

When customers complained to Comcast, they were allegedly told by company representatives that the fees were government-related taxes or fees over which the company said it had no control – an assertion the plaintiffs claim is a blatant lie.

Comcast asked the court to dismiss all the claims put forth by the plaintiffs, saying its online order submission process was not enough to constitute a legally-binding contract. On the other hand, the Subscriber Agreement and Minimum Term Agreement were binding contracts in which the customers had allegedly agreed to pay Comcast’s fees.

Judge Vince Chhabria, of the U.S. District Court of Northern California, rejected Comcast’s motion to dismiss, saying that, by submitting their order, Comcast customers were agreeing to pay Comcast’s advertised prices, in addition to government-related taxes and fees. Chhabria denied Comcast’s assertion that consumers agreed to its higher fees in the Subscriber Agreement. As far as the Minimum Term Agreement was concerned, the plaintiffs allege they never saw it when submitting their order, in which case they cannot be bound by its terms. Chhabria said the plaintiffs had plausibly asserted that they never saw the agreement, although determining it in fact will have to be left to the more in-depth analysis of a summary judgment. Continue reading