Articles Posted in Business Disputes

If a lawsuit is filed and the parties decide to settle before the case gets to court, how can you know what evidence each party found to support their case? You can’t. Chances are good the defendant requested the court to seal the documents, meaning it would not be available to other lawyers, journalists, or the general public.

Over the years, attorneys for corporations have managed to convince the courts their clients need protection from the public, rather than the other way around. The courts’ willingness to go along with this has only endangered consumers who were prevented from being made aware of things like the dangers of opioids, weak car roofs, or guns with faulty triggers.

Over the years, various legislators and judges have acknowledged there are problems with the current system of sealing court documents, but so far they have been either unwilling or unable to make the necessary changes to protect consumers.

When the first rules allowing judges to seal court documents were created, they initially allowed judges to decide which documents to shield by considering them on a case-by-case basis. The rules were later broadened to include anything with the potential to embarrass or annoy a corporation. Continue reading ›

Scott Norris Johnson is a quadriplegic who used to work for the IRS and now practices law suing local businesses for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As the lawyer filing these lawsuits, Johnson is entitled to at least a portion of the settlement money he receives from these lawsuits, but he is required to report that money on his income taxes. According to a recent lawsuit, Johnson knowingly failed to report that income on his taxes, thereby defrauding the U.S. government of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Johnson pleaded guilty to the charge of tax evasion and agreed to pay $250,000 in restitution and spend 18 months of home detention. The judge presiding over the case, John Mendez, insisted that Johnson be made to pay a fine in addition to the $250,000 in restitution and home detention. That was not part of the plea agreement, but Johnson agreed to pay the $50,000 fine Mendez wanted him to pay.

Mendez pointed out that the money is a drop in the bucket for Johnson, who has assets of $1.3 million and a monthly income of $81,000, thanks to all the ADA lawsuits he’s filing. Mendez was also concerned by Johnson’s lack of remorse for his actions, and pointed out that, were it not for his disability, he’d be serving up to three years in prison. Continue reading ›

We’ve all heard stories of the plucky entrepreneur who started a game-changing business and managed to sell it for millions of dollars. It’s a great rags-to-riches story, and it proves the American Dream is real. But what if the business is fake?

Charlie Javice was one of those young entrepreneurs. The company she started was called Frank, and the idea was to simplify the financial aid process for college students. When JP Morgan bought the company from Javice in 2021, it was valued at $175 million, and Javice was made managing director for student solutions. Now JP Morgan is suing her for allegedly exaggerating the company’s value … by a lot.

College students are a goldmine for banks. Almost all college students need to take out a loan in order to pay for their higher education, loans they spend decades paying off while the banks collect interest.

A lot of college students are also taking out credit cards for the first time, and most of them have not been taught how to use credit cards to their advantage. Instead, they’re more likely to end up in debt to the credit card companies.

According to court documents, when JP Morgan bought Frank, Javice allegedly told the bank’s executives that the company had more than 4 million users. The idea was that, by buying Frank, JP Morgan would gain access to a database containing the names and contact details of all those users who would no doubt be in need of financial assistance and a bank to provide its services. Continue reading ›

When Stephen Easterbrook was first fired from his position as CEO of McDonald’s, the firing was listed as “without cause,” which allowed Easterbrook to keep his severance pay, including shares in the company. But that was before McDonald’s found out about the extent of Easterbrook’s alleged misconduct.

At the time he was fired, Easterbrook allegedly denied having any inappropriate relationships with any of his employees, except for one relationship, which he claimed had not been physical. Afterwards, an internal investigation found emails that allegedly revealed Easterbrook’s sexual relationships with multiple McDonald’s employees during his time as CEO. Once these emails were uncovered, the company sued Easterbrook in 2020.

The lawsuit resulted in Easterbrook returning his shares in the company, as well as cash, the combined value of which was about $105 million at the time he returned it. Continue reading ›

In a recent decision, the Illinois Supreme Court held that clients ordered to pay punitive damages can sue their attorneys to recover the money. In doing so the Court considered and rejected arguments that state law and public policy protect lawyers from being subject to punitive damages awards.

Midwest Sanitary Service Inc. retained St. Louis law firm Sandberg, Phoenix & Von Gontard to represent it in a whistleblower retaliation case filed against it by a former employee. Midwest lost the trial which resulted in a jury award of $160,000 in compensatory damages and, important to the case before the Court, $625,000 in punitive damages against the company. Following the verdict, Midwest sued its lawyers for malpractice alleging that the attorneys had committed various mistakes in the case including failing to designate defense witnesses in time and eliciting harmful testimony from a state official during cross-examination.

For their part, the attorneys sought dismissal of the legal malpractice suit arguing that Section 2-1115 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure prohibition against awarding punitive damages in medical or legal malpractice cases precluded Midwest from recovery of the punitive damages award. It also argued that allowing recovery in a legal malpractice suit of punitive damages awarded in an underlying suit would violate the public policy of Illinois. The trial court rejected the law firm’s arguments that it could not be held responsible for the punitive damages award. The Fifth District appellate court sided with the trial court. The Illinois Supreme Court granted the law firm’s petition for leave to appeal.

Initially, the Court noted that the malpractice case was still ongoing and that the appeal had not come from a final and appealable judgment but was an interlocutory appeal brought pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308. As such, the Court’s task was to answer the question of whether, in a legal malpractice action, punitive damages incurred in an underlying action, which were proximately caused by the alleged negligence of the attorneys in the underlying action, can be recovered as compensatory damages from the allegedly negligent attorneys in a legal malpractice action. Continue reading ›

A Delaware Chancery Court judge recently rendered a post-trial verdict in the In re Tesla Motors Stockholder Litigation in which he found in favor of co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, on claims that Musk breached his fiduciary duties, was unjustly enriched, and created corporate waste in connection with Tesla’s 2016 acquisition of the SolarCity Corporation.

This high-profile, high-stakes lawsuit stemmed from alleged conflicts of interest created by Musk’s leadership and ownership of both companies during the 2016 acquisition. At the time of the merger, Musk was SolarCity’s largest stockholder and chaired its board of directors. At the same time, he owned 22% of Tesla stock and served as CEO and a director of Tesla. When the potential acquisition of SolarCity came up, Tesla’s board elected not to form a special committee of independent directors to negotiate the transaction. It did, however, condition approval of the acquisition on the “affirmative vote of a majority of the minority of Tesla’s disinterested stockholders” and recused Musk from certain Board discussions regarding the acquisition.

Despite these protections, the plaintiff shareholders alleged that Musk, as Tesla’s controlling shareholder, exerted his influence over Tesla’s board to approve the acquisition at an unfair price, following a highly flawed process, in order to bail out his (and other family members’) foundering investment in SolarCity. Plaintiffs named both Musk and members of Tesla’s board as defendants and sought damages as well as equitable remedies. Before trial, all defendants except Musk settled with plaintiffs, leaving only the claims against Musk proceeding to an 11-day trial over July and August 2021. Continue reading ›

A California state appellate court recently issued an opinion reviving a class-action lawsuit concerning alleged violations of requirements employers must follow when performing employment-related background checks. In its opinion, the Court reversed summary judgment entered in favor of book retailer Barnes & Noble in a class-action lawsuit accusing the retailer of failing to strictly comply with the requirements for obtaining authorization for background checks found in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The Court’s decision breathes new life into the putative class action which was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

The FCRA is a federal statute that is meant to protect consumer privacy and promote fair and accurate credit reporting. Part of the law contains a number of requirements that employers must follow when performing employment-related background checks. Two of these requirements are found in 15 U.S.C. 1681b and require an “employer who obtains a consumer report about a job applicant first to provide the applicant with a standalone, clear and conspicuous disclosure of its intention to do so, and to obtain the applicant’s consent.” The FCRA further requires that the disclosure be contained in a document that consists solely of the disclosure.

In 2018, the plaintiff applied to work for Barnes & Noble. During the application process, Barnes & Noble’s consumer reporting agency, First Advantage, emailed the plaintiff a link to a website containing the retailer’s consumer report disclosure and asked her to authorize Barnes & Noble to perform a background check. The plaintiff alleges that she clicked the link, viewed the disclosure, and authorized Barnes & Noble to perform the background check.

First Advantage had prepared the consumer report disclosure statement that appeared on Barnes & Noble’s website. Included with the statement was a footnote that stated:

Nothing contained herein should be construed as legal advice or guidance. Employers should consult their own counsel about their compliance responsibilities under the FCRA and applicable state law. First Advantage expressly disclaims any warranties or responsibility or damages associated with or arising out of information provided herein.

Continue reading ›

Recently, the Delaware Court of Chancery refused to dismiss an action for post-closing damages stemming from alleged breaches of fiduciary duty brought by former stockholders of Authentix Acquisition Company, Inc. In doing so, the Court rejected the defendants’ arguments that a provision in a stockholders agreement entered by the plaintiffs waived such claims for breaches of fiduciary duties.

The dispute arose out of the sale of Authentix to Blue Water Energy in 2017. The plaintiffs in the case were holders of common stock in Authentix. In connection with their investment in the company, the plaintiffs entered into a Stockholders Agreement which provided that they would “consent to and raise no objections against” any sale of the company approved by Authentix’s board and holders of at least 50% of outstanding shares. In 2017, the board approved a sale to Blue Water Energy over the objection of one of the plaintiffs, a director stockholder. The sale was also approved by holders of more than 50% of the company’s outstanding shares.

In response to the sale, the plaintiffs filed suit for post-closing damages, alleging various breaches of fiduciary duties by three former directors and officers of Authentix as well as the preferred stockholders of Authentix who plaintiffs alleged controlled the company. In response, the defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims arguing that the plaintiffs had waived any right to bring such claims. According to the defendants, because the sale was approved by Authentix’s board and at least 50% of the outstanding shares, the Stockholders Agreement precluded plaintiffs from raising any objections related to the sale. Continue reading ›

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently joined the Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits in ruling in favor of insurers facing COVID-19 business interruption lawsuits. The consolidated appeal dealt with three different claims under Illinois law brought by affected businesses in a diversified range of industries from a dentist office to a hotel.

Each of the plaintiffs was a business that had purchased a commercial-property insurance policy from the Cincinnati Insurance Company. Shortly after the initial outbreak of COVID in Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker issued several executive orders that forced each business to shut down or drastically scale back operations. As a result, the businesses claimed to have lost substantial business income and submitted claims to Cincinnati under their policies. Cincinnati denied each of the plaintiff’s insurance claims. Continue reading ›

Back in September the resident-run condo board of 432 Park Avenue in Manhattan sued the developer of the building for $125 million to repair 1,500 alleged defects to the luxury condo building. According to the lawsuit, multiple residents experienced flooding in their units and noise as a result of alleged building defects. They also reported elevators that would get stuck and trap residents for hours.

The lawsuit further alleges that the construction issues have affected the building’s management, causing common charges to go up by 39% and insurance premiums to go up 300%.

The building’s developer denies the allegations made in the September lawsuit, arguing the allegations of safety defects were exaggerated, and that many of the problems it acknowledged were either caused and/or exacerbated by the residents themselves. According to the developer, it tried to address some of the issues listed in the residents’ lawsuit, but it claims the condo association either cancelled appointments or blocked access to the building when repairs were scheduled to be made.

As a result, the developer has filed a counter lawsuit against the condo board for defamation. According to the developer’s lawsuit, 90% of the building’s units were sold at the time the condo association filed its lawsuit, but sales dropped dramatically after the residents started making their allegations against the building’s developer. To back up its point, the developer pointed out that, overall, 2019 was a strong year for luxury condo sales, suggesting the lag in sales at the 432 Park Avenue building was most likely due at least in part to resident complaints. The developer has not specified the amount of damages it is seeking in its lawsuit against its residents, but it’s likely to be tens of millions of dollars.

The president of the condo board denies all the allegations made in the developer’s defamation lawsuit. Continue reading ›

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