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Articles Posted in Business Law

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It is interesting that the trend in New Jersey employment law is to enforce arbitration agreements in employment contracts, while at the same time finding them unenforceable in consumer and commercial contracts.  However, the law is the same: whatever the area, arbitration agreements are interpreted and enforced – or not enforceable – under New Jersey contract law.  It’s therefore worth looking at two recent opinions in these areas to see what can be learned.

The Knight Case:  Consumer Contracts and Consumer Fraud

In the first, a published opinion in case of Knight v. Vivint Solar Developer, LLC, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey stuck down an arbitration agreement which the defendants tried to enforce in a consumer fraud lawsuit over the sale of solar panels.  After Knight sued, Vivint filed a motion to courthouse-1223280__340-300x200dismiss her complaint and enforce an arbitration agreement which required the parties to arbitrate their disputes.

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Construction Arbitration

Complex New Jersey construction law cases can be extremely expensive to litigate in court because of the amount of documents involved, the number of witnesses, and the need for experts.  Therefore, many construction contracts contain arbitration provisions.  The view is that arbitration can save money in the 352099_construction_3-002-300x225litigation process, but still provide an enforceable dispute resolution process.

However, it would not be accurate to call construction arbitration “cheap” or “inexpensive.”  Essentially, arbitration is a private litigation process with limited discovery and appeal rights.   By limiting discovery, particularly depositions, a significant source of expense is eliminated, and by limiting appeal rights, arbitration can provide more finality.  However, there is still discovery.   Documents are generally exchanged before the hearing, so there is still expense, but costs are saved because arbitration rarely involves depositions.  Likewise, while experts are not normally deposed, they are still required and must prepare pre-hearing reports about their expected testimony.  All of this entails significant expense.  In addition, while there are minimal filing fees and the services of courts are generally free, the use of an arbitration forum in construction law disputes entails significant fees, and in addition the parties have to pay the arbitrator for all his or her time.

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The recent trend has been for courts to find arbitration agreements enforceable under both Federal and New Jersey employment law.  However, prior to enforcing an arbitration agreement, courts must  find that there was actually agreement.  This simple concept was emphasized again by the Appellate Division of Contract-pen-thumb-300x225-80678-300x225the Superior Court of New Jersey in the case of Christina Imperato v. Medwell, LLC.

In that case, Christina Imperato was hired by Medwell, a chiropractic office.  She had a limited education and no prior medical or office experience.  When she was hired, Dr. Ali Mazandarani sat with her and had her sign some pre-employment forms.  They were not explained; Mazandarani sat with her, handed her the forms, and pointed to where she should sign.  She was not given the opportunity to read these or take them home.  The documents included a five page agreement which required that employment disputes be resolved by arbitration rather than court.

Imperato sued Medwell in the Superior Court of New Jersey for sexual harassment in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.  Medwell’s attorneys filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and order the case to arbitration.  The trial judge allowed discovery, including depositions, on the limited question of whether Imperato signed the arbitration agreement, and if so whether she signed it voluntarily and knowingly.  The judge then held a hearing with live testimony on that single issue.

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The New Jersey Supreme Court once again expanded  the enforceability of arbitration agreements under New Jersey employment law.  In its opinion in Skuse vs. Pfizer, Inc., the Court left in place the requirements necessary for agreements to arbitrate employee/employer disputes columns-round-300x201under New Jersey employment law, but in its application let the exceptions swallow the rule.

Pfizer’s Arbitration Agreement

Pfizer adopted an arbitration “agreement” – actually, more of a policy.  It was not a contract signed by an employee and Pfizer.  Rather, the employee was deemed to have agreed to arbitrate employment disputes if she continued working for Pfizer for sixty days after the policy’s effective date.  Employees were notified by email (to over 28,000 employees) about the policy and given a deadline to “acknowledge” having received it.  Whether the employees did or did not acknowledge receipt, they would be deemed to have “agreed” to the policy by their continued employment.  There was a training module with four slides which purported to explain the policy; one of the slides gave the employees the option to print a copy, but they were not given a copy by Pfizer; another thanked the employee for taking the training.  In the FAQ section of the training module employees were told that if they did not agree they would be fired.

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A recent New Jersey construction law opinion by the Appellate Division in the case of CNJ Construction Corporation vs. Autobuilders General Contracting Services, Inc. illustrates just how important the precise language in a construction contracts is, and just how important itconstruction-9-10-300x225 is to have a well-written contract.

The Case of CNJ v. Autobuilders

Autobuilders General Contracting Services, Inc. was general contractor on a project for the construction of a Maserati dealership in Morris County.  Autobuilders entered into four subcontracts with CNJ Construction Corporation for demolition, concrete, steel and site work on the project.  Each of the subcontracts contained a provision that Autobuilders could terminate the contracts for cause if CNJ failed to perform, but had to give CNJ three days written notice prior to termination, during which time CNJ could cure the default and avoid termination.  The notices had to be delivered by certain specified means, which did not include regular mail.  No notice was required if CNJ abandoned the job.  The contract provided that if CNJ was terminated for cause, it would be liable for any increased cost incurred by Autobuilders for completing its work on the project with other subcontractors.

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Under New Jersey construction law, each county must establish a construction board of appeals. A construction board of appeals hears the applications of any “person who is aggrieved by any ruling, action, notice, order or decision of a local enforcing agency that enforces either the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code or the New Jersey Uniform Fire Code, including, without limitation, any refusal to grant an application or any failure or refusal to act upon an application, building-home-construction-contractor-blueprint-architecture-300x200but not including any order requiring the taking of emergency measures….”  This is an important tool under New Jersey construction law to challenge wrongful denials by local authorities of building and construction applications.

Most county construction boards of appeals have websites with information about their locations, hours and local procedures.  For example, the Passaic County Board of Construction Appeals can be found here.  The Essex County Board of Construction Appeals can be found here.  The Bergen County Board of Construction Appeals can be found here.  The Monmouth County Board of Construction Appeals can be found here.  The Morris County Board of Construction Appeals can be found here.

Appeals must be filed and received by the local county construction board of appeals within 15 days of receipt of the written notice of the action, ruling, notice or order which is to be appealed.  While the law states 15 days from receipt, we recommend that appeals be received by the construction board of appeals within 15 days from the date on the notice to avoid any later dispute over the date of receipt and the possible rejection of the appeal as untimely.

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Contractors’ Problems With Getting Paid

Our construction attorneys represent New Jersey contractors and subcontractors in construction litigation, arbitration and mediation.  One of the things we see over and over again, is that one of construction companies’ biggest worries is that they will perform all the work they pulaski-skyway-300x201agreed to and then not get paid, despite the fact that they met all the project’s specifications and did a great job.  It is a well-founded worry.  Companies or people who don’t want to pay devise many different schemes, sometimes claiming defects with the work, delay damages, failure to do proper paperwork, the excuses are as varied as is human imagination.  To be clear, sometimes these claims are legitimate, but sometimes they are not, and good contractors need to get paid to do the work and to stay in business.

Fortunately, however, New Jersey construction law provides remedies for these schemes.  Recently, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey issued a decision on these construction law remedies in the case of Petric & Associates, Inc. v. CCA Civil, Inc.  Although the decision was unpublished, it is important because it explores many of these remedies and lays out a roadmap for subcontractors’ remedies against unscrupulous contractors which don’t want to pay them, particularly some of the trickier issues under New Jersey’s Prompt Payment Act.

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As a result of the Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic, the federal government has passed several pieces of legislation in an attempt to provide relief to struggling businesses.  One of these Acts is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (also known as the “CARES Act”).  However, since this legislation was signed empty-officeinto law, the CARES Act has been subject to various interpretations, pitfalls, and continuously-evolving government guidance.

The CARES Act created and allocated approximately $350 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP).  However, those funds were almost immediately depleted by millions of businesses seeking assistance and the government thereafter allocated an additional $175 billion to the PPP.

The PPP provides loans to struggling businesses in the amount of two and a half times the small business’s average monthly payroll costs.  Thus, if the average monthly payroll is $50,000, the business might be eligible for up to $125,000 in PPP loans.  While the PPP is considered a loan program, the funds may be largely (or entirely) forgiven as long as the business uses the funds for approved expenses which are appropriately documented. However, like most aspects of the CARES Act and the PPP, there has been a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the specific requirements for loan forgiveness.  The SBA (the United States Small Business Administration) alone has posted supplemental rules and guidance on the matter more than ten times in two months.  Thus, as a result, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act was passed on June 5, 2020 amending the CARES Act. This new law has important ramifications for New Jersey small businesses.

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Hi, I’m Rob Chewning. I work with the firm of McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC.  At the firm we practice several different types of law, including bankruptcy law.  I am here today to talk to you about The Small Business Reorganization Act and Subchapter 5 bankruptcies.

As a result of COVID-19, millions of small businesses have been forced to shut down and cease business operations indefinitely with no end in sight.  Some of these small businesses have tried to hold on in the hope of getting federal stimulus money that can carry them through this tough time.  However, there are several million other businesses which will not be eligible or will not be able to get their hands on this federal stimulus money which is causing them to consider the options that they have.

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As a result of the Novel Coronavirus (“COVID-19”), the federal government has passed significant legislation in an attempt to provide relief to businesses small-business-300x215struggling with economic hardships as a result of widespread closures and stay-at-home orders.  One major part of these governmental actions includes the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (also known as the “CARES Act”) on April 2, 2020.

The CARES Act provides for approximately $2 trillion in aid through expanded unemployment assistance, individual relief checks, tax credits, loans, and grants to businesses which were closed or significantly effected by COVID-19, and funding to hospitals and health care facilities. Of this, approximately $350 billion was allocated to the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP).   When that money was almost immediately sought by the millions of businesses seeking assistance, an additional $175 billion was additionally allocated.

The PPP limited its funding to each company to two and a half times the company’s average monthly payroll costs.  While the PPP is considered a loan program, the funds may largely (or entirely) be forgiven as long as the company uses the funds for approved expenses. The details of exactly which expenses would be considered approved and how these funds could be used has been the subject of much uncertainty over the past several weeks.  Indeed, the SBA (Small Business Administration) has posted additional rules and guidance on the matter more than 10 times in two months.

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