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    Key California Employment Law Cases: October 2018

    December 11, 2018 —
    This month’s key employment law cases address the test for independent contractor status, the legality of an incentive compensation system, and personal liability for wage and hour violations. Garcia v. Border Transp. Group, LLC, Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 22, 2018 Summary: Defendants must satisfy Dynamex ABC test to establish independent contractor status as defense to wage order claims, but Borello multifactor test applies to non-wage-order claims. Facts: Plaintiff leased a taxicab license and taxicab from defendants. Plaintiff brought several employment claims against defendants, including claims for whistleblower wrongful termination, unpaid wages, minimum wages, meal and rest break penalties, wage statement penalties, civil penalties under the California Labor Code Private Attorney Generals Act (“PAGA”), waiting time penalties, and unfair competition. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims on the ground that plaintiff was an independent contractor and not an employee. Relying on the factors described in Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations, 48 Cal. 3d 341, 256 Cal. Rptr. 543 (1989), defendant presented evidence that plaintiff set his own hours, used the cab for personal business, kept collected fares, used a radio dispatch service, entered into sublease agreements, held other jobs, and advertised services in his own name.The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. While plaintiff’s appeal was pending, the California Supreme Court decided Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, 4 Cal. 5th 903, 232 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1 (2018), establishing a new test for independent contractor status under the definition of employment found in the California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders. Reprinted courtesy of Alejandro G. Ruiz, Payne & Fears and Eric C. Sohlgren, Payne & Fears Mr. Ruiz may be contacted at agr@paynefears.com Mr. Sohlgren may be contacted at ecs@paynefears.com Read the court decision
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    Ninth Circuit Rules Supreme Court’s Two-Part Test of Implied Certification under the False Claims Act Mandatory

    May 13, 2019 —
    For those contractors in the government arena, read on. The False Claims Act (“FCA”) was enacted to deter knowingly fraudulent actions by contractors which resulted in a loss of property to the Government. Intent to defraud with resulting financial hardship was required. Contrary to popular misconception, the statute was not designed to punish all false submissions to the Government simply because those submissions, or claims, are later found to be false. The statute’s inclusion of the requisite element of knowledge is consistent with this notion:
    1. A defendant must submit a claim for payment to the Government;
    2. the claim must be false or fraudulent;
    3. the defendant must have known the claim was fraudulent when it was submitted (also known as scienter); and
    4. the claim must have caused the Government to pay out money.
    See 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a). Despite these explicit elements (in addition to common law elements of fraud), over the last two decades, contractors have seen ever-expanding theories of FCA recovery presented by qui tam plaintiffs and the Government. For example, under the FCA, the false “claim” evolved over time: the claim no longer needs to be an express false claim (i.e. the truthfulness of the claim is a direct condition of payment); the claim can be “implied” misrepresentation or “half-truth”. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Meredith Thielbahr, Gordon & Rees Scully Mansukhani
    Ms. Thielbahr may be contacted at mthielbahr@grsm.com

    How One Squirrel Taught us a Surprising Amount about Insurance Investigation Lessons Learned from the Iowa Supreme Court

    April 03, 2019 —
    A recent decision issued by the Iowa Supreme Court, City of West Liberty, Iowa v. Employers Mutual Casualty Company, highlights the importance for a policyholder to investigate a loss fully so that a wide range of evidence can be gathered and presented to show why there is coverage. The facts of City of West Liberty are a little unusual, but its lesson is not limited to Iowa insurance law; the issues litigated in this case show the value of investigating what caused a loss regardless of whether the loss occurred in California, Iowa, or elsewhere. Background on the Case City of West Liberty involved an insurance coverage dispute between a municipality owned electrical power plant and its insurance company. The dispute arose from a single adventurous squirrel who climbed onto an outdoor electrical transformer, touching two different parts of the power plant: a portion of the steel frame and a bare cable clamp. In doing so, the squirrel created a “conductive path,” in the words of the Iowa Supreme Court, between the high voltage clamp and the grounded frame. The path, once created, caused significant damage to the transformer and other electrical equipment at the city’s power plant. The city submitted a claim for the resulting damage, but the insurance company denied it. The insurer denied based on an exclusion in the insurance policy for property damage “caused by arcing or by electrical currents other than lightning.” According to the insurance company, the squirrel had no role in causing the damage; all of the damage resulted from arcing, which was excluded from coverage. The ensuing lawsuit focused upon whether the squirrel had a role in causing the damage. If yes, then there would be coverage according to Iowa insurance law; when a loss results from two causes, one of which is covered and the other is not, then there is coverage if the loss occurs from the covered cause. Due to this legal standard, the city contended that, apart from the arcing causing any damage, the squirrel caused the damage too. Because the insurance policy provided protection against mischievous actions performed by squirrels, the city contended that it was entitled to coverage, even if the excluded arcing contributed to the same damage too. Unfortunately, for the city, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected that argument, finding instead that the property damage resulted only from the arcing, which was excluded from coverage. In reaching its conclusion, the court absolved the squirrel of any wrongdoing, finding that it did not cause any of the property damage. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Graham C. Mills, Newmeyer & Dillion
    Mr. Mills may be contacted at graham.mills@ndlf.com

    How to Mitigate Lien Release Bond Premiums with Disappearing Lien Claimants

    May 20, 2019 —
    It is one of those dreaded business situations that plagues the construction industry, especially in times of economic downturn—what to do when a lower-tier entity files a lien against a property then disappears. It has happened to countless owners, general contractors, subcontractors, and even some particularly unlucky sub-tier subcontractors and suppliers. Here is how it arises: a project is moving along, then performance or payment issues arise, and a company that is over extended or unwilling to continue work stops performance, walks off the job, and files a lien against the property for whatever amounts were allegedly unpaid. Often, the allegedly unpaid sums were legitimately withheld due to a good faith dispute over payment/performance, and it is not unusual for the defaulting entity to not be entitled to any of the sums claimed in the lien. Regardless, the lien stays on the property, and pressure is applied from the “upstream” entities to the party who contracted with the defaulting entity to “deal” with the lien. Oftentimes, a contract will require the parties to “deal” with a lien by obtaining a lien release bond (“release bond”). For those lucky enough to not have encountered this issue, a release bond is a nifty statutory device whereby a surety agrees to record a release bond for the full claimed amount of the lien, with the release bond substituting in for the liened property, effectively discharging the property from liability under the lien. In other words, the lien is released from the property and attaches to the release bond. If the lien claimant recovers on its lien, it is technically satisfied by the surety providing the release bond (or the party who agrees to indemnify and defend the release bond). In exchange for delivering the release bond, the surety demands yearly premiums be paid on the release bond amount Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Scott MacDonald, Ahlers Cressman & Sleight PLLC
    Mr. MacDonald may be contacted at scott.macdonald@acslawyers.com

    Nonparty Discovery in California Arbitration: How to Get What You Want

    January 08, 2019 —
    Opting for arbitration requires attorneys to balance efficiency and procedural protections. The implications of arbitration are something clients certainly have to carefully consider both when drafting arbitration provisions, and after initiating a demand. While arbitration can in many respects streamline the civil discovery process, one of the largest roadblocks for cases in California arbitrations is “streamlining” discovery from nonparties. This article explores the challenges presented by third party discovery in arbitration, and proposes strategies for obtaining such discovery efficiently and expeditiously. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Leilani L. Jones, Payne & Fears
    Ms. Jones may be contacted at llj@paynefears.com

    United States Supreme Court Limits Class Arbitration

    May 13, 2019 —
    On April 24, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") bars orders requiring class arbitration when an agreement is ambiguous about the availability of such a procedure. Lamps Plus v. Varela, 587 U.S. __ , 2019 WL 1780275, (2019). In Lamps Plus, the Court clarified a 2010 case in which it held that a court may not compel arbitration on a class-wide basis when an agreement is silent on the availability of class arbitration. Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animal Feeds Int'l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 687 (2012). In Lamps Plus, a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court explained that because the FAA envisions the use of traditional individualized arbitration, a party cannot be forced under the FAA to submit to class arbitration unless the parties explicitly agreed to do so. Because class arbitration does not share the benefits of traditional arbitration -- lower costs, greater efficiency and speed, and the parties' choice of a neutral -- the FAA requires more than an "ambiguous" agreement to show that the parties bound themselves to arbitrate on a class-wide basis. Unlike individualized arbitration, or even traditional class actions, class arbitration raises serious due process concerns because absent class members will have limited judicial review. Based on these critical differences between individual and class arbitration, the Court reiterated in Lamps Plus that "courts may not infer consent to participate in class arbitration absent an affirmative contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so." Reprinted courtesy of Jeffrey K. Brown, Payne & Fears and Raymond J. Nhan, Payne & Fears Mr. Brown may be contacted at jkb@paynefears.com Mr. Nhan may be contacted at rjn@paynefears.com Read the court decision
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    Coyness is Nice. Just Not When Seeking a Default Judgment

    March 04, 2019 —
    As Morrissey of the Smith’s sang: Coyness is nice, but Coyness can stop you, from saying all the things in life you’d like to. It’s not uncommon in litigation to see a complaint asking for “damages according to proof.” Call it laziness. Call it hiding the ball. Call it coy, even. I call it risky. And here’s why: If a defendant doesn’t appear and you need to seek a default judgment against him, her, or it, you are barred from doing so, since you are limited to recovering the amount you sought. And last I checked, something of nothing is nothing. In Yu v. Liberty Surplus Insurance Corporation, California Court of Appeals for the Fourth District, Case No. G054522 (December 11, 2018), one plaintiff found this out the hard way, although perhaps not quite in the way they expected it. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Garret Murai, Wendel Rosen
    Mr. Murai may be contacted at gmurai@wendel.com

    ‘Like a War Zone’: Malibu Fire Ravages Multimillion-Dollar Homes

    December 04, 2018 —
    Malibu resident Lance Schultz was jolted awake at 2 a.m. Friday with word that he needed to evacuate. With a roaring fire approaching the coastal community, he gathered his girlfriend, dog and 8-month-old son and headed to nearby Zuma Beach. He returned Sunday to survey the damage. His home was saved after his girlfriend’s 82-year-old father returned to hose down the property he had built years before. But Schultz estimates about one-fifth of the houses in the neighborhood are gone, including a mansion down the block that was on sale for $16 million. Much of the rest of the area is covered in black soot. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of John Gittelsohn, Anousha Sakoui, & Christopher Palmeri, Bloomberg