Over the past 15 years, chief compliance officers (“CCOs”) for financial services firms have come under increased scrutiny as the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) have brought more frequent enforcement actions seeking to hold CCOs personally liable. CCOs understandably have been concerned about this trend and financial service firms

The trend in New York State to provide relief for expired claims by waiving statutes of limitation in sex-abuse cases may be continuing. As its current session winds down, the New York State Legislature is considering legislation that would provide a “revival” one-year period of the statute of limitations within which survivors of adult sexual

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as “RICO,” was enacted to fight organized crime but has evolved into the bane of legitimate businesses. Along with criminal penalties that can only be enforced by federal prosecutors, RICO contains a provision allowing for civil lawsuits. The rewards for a successful civil RICO claim include mandatory treble damages and attorney’s fees. For this reason, civil RICO lawsuits have become a favorite of overzealous plaintiffs hoping to make headlines and scare legitimate businesses into quick settlements. And since private plaintiffs have a greater incentive to be “creative” than federal prosecutors, civil RICO cases often push the statute’s limits. But the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the infamous “Bridgegate” case, Kelly v. United States, may help decelerate this trend by limiting civil RICO claims in important ways.

In the Bridgegate case, three New Jersey state officials were charged with exacting political revenge against a local Democratic mayor for failing to endorse the Republican governor’s reelection bid. In what could have been a deleted scene from The Sopranos, the state officials ordered a “traffic study” that closed down some lanes for commuters in Fort Lee, New Jersey (the home of the Democratic Mayor) traveling across the George Washington Bridge into New York City. The “traffic study” had the predictable result of creating hours of gridlock that ensnared commuters, school buses, and even ambulances. That gridlock was, of course, the goal all along. In fact, upon hearing the news that the Democratic mayor would not endorse the Republican governor, one of the state officials emailed the other, advising: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Federal prosecutors felt that this was more than petty political retribution and charged the trio of state officials with criminal violations of the federal wire fraud statute, which makes it a crime to use interstate wires (such as telephones and email) to effect “any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises.” 18 U.S.C. § 1343. One of the officials pleaded guilty, and the other two were convicted at trial. The convictions were later affirmed on appeal by the Third Circuit.
Continue Reading Supreme Court’s “Bridgegate” Decision May Limit Civil RICO Lawsuits

On August 6, 2020, in Rose’s 1 LLC, et al. v. Erie Insurance Exchange, a District of Columbia trial court granted an insurer’s cross motion for summary judgment on the issue of whether COVID-19 closure orders constitute a “direct physical loss” under a commercial property policy. Plaintiff insureds (“Insureds”) own several restaurants in Washington D.C. that were forced to close and suffered serious revenue losses stemming from the Mayor’s orders to close non-essential businesses and ordering people to stay home. As a result, the Insureds made claims to Defendant Erie Insurance Exchange (the “Insurer”) under their policies that included coverage for “loss of ‘income’ and/or ‘rental income’” sustained “due to partial or total ‘interruption of business’ resulting directly from ‘loss’ or damage” to the property insured. The policy also stated that it “insures against direct physical ‘loss.’”

Dictionary Definitions Open to Interpretation

As the Court framed the issue, “[a]t the most basic level, the parties dispute whether the closure of the restaurants due to Mayor Bowser’s orders constituted a ‘direct physical loss’ under the policy.” To support their argument, the Insureds relied on dictionary definitions of “direct” as “[w]ithout intervening persons, conditions, or agencies; immediate;” and “physical” as pertaining to things “[o]f or pertaining to matter, or the world as perceived by the senses; material as [opposed] to mental or spiritual.” The policy defined “loss,” as “direct and accidental loss of or damage to covered property.”

The Insureds relied on these definitions to make three arguments. First, they argued that the loss of use of their restaurant properties was “direct” because the closures were the direct result of the Mayor’s orders without intervening action. The Court rejected that argument because those orders commanded individuals and businesses to take certain actions and “[s[tanding alone and absent intervening actions by individuals and businesses, the orders did not affect any direct changes to the properties.”

Second, the Insureds argued that their losses were “physical” because the COVID-19 virus is “material” and “tangible,” and because the harm they experienced was caused by the Mayor’s orders rather than diners being afraid to eat out. The Court also rejected that argument because the Insureds offered no evidence that COVID-19 was actually present on their properties at the time they were forced to close and the mayor’s orders did not impact the tangible structure of the properties.

Third, the Insureds argued that the policy’s definition of “loss” as encompassing either “loss” or “damage,” required the insurer to “treat the term ‘loss’ as distinct from ‘damage,’ which connotes physical damage to the property,” and thus “loss” incorporates “loss of use.” The Court rejected that argument and held that the words “direct” and “physical” modify the word “loss” and therefore any “loss of use” must be “caused, without the intervention of other persons or conditions, by something pertaining to matter—in other words, a direct physical intrusion [onto] the insured property.” The Court held that the Mayor’s orders did not constitute such a direct physical intrusion.
Continue Reading D.C. Judge Rules COVID-19 Closure Orders Do Not Constitute “Direct Physical Loss”

Sometimes a crisis can be an opportunity to embrace new technologies and changes that were already on the horizon – albeit at a much more expedited pace.  As employees are required to work remotely and practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government and several state governments (including New York and New

On March 10, 2020, the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”), which regulates a wide variety of financial institutions, including banks, insurance companies, and investment advisors doing business in New York, issued a series of letters regarding the response to the Novel Coronavirus (“COVID-19”). In addition to providing guidance, DFS has asked all regulated

On June 19, 2019, the New York State Senate and Assembly passed legislation that would, if signed into law, broaden the scope of last year’s ban on clauses requiring employees to arbitrate sexual harassment claims so as to prohibit such clauses with respect to all types of discrimination claims. As reported on this blog,