New Jersey Appellate Division Invalidates Jenny Craig Employee Arbitration Provision

This week, in Marilyn Flanzman v. Jenny Craig Inc. et al., No. A-2580-17, a panel of the Appellate Division found that an arbitration provision between weight loss company Jenny Craig and a former employee was unenforceable because the agreement failed to identify where or how the parties would arbitrate their dispute.

The plaintiff’s employment was terminated when she was 86 years’ old and after she had worked for Jenny Craig for 26 years.  The trial court had sent her age discrimination case to an arbitrator based on an arbitration agreement signed in 2011.

Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) almost a century ago to address the hostility courts had towards private arbitration and put arbitration agreements “on\equal footing” with other contracts.   Jenny Craig’s arbitration agreement did not identify where and how the parties would arbitrate the dispute (such as, through the American Arbitration Association, or by creating a process for the selection of an arbitrator).  This failure doomed the provision,  the Appellate Division held, because under New Jersey law, the parties must have reached a “meeting of the minds” to successful enter into a contract.  Without knowing what rights would replace their right to judicial resolution of their dispute, the Court concluded, the parties could not have properly agreed to the provision.

Though dealing with a single case, any decision invalidating an arbitration provision is likely to result in a negative reaction from the business community.  Jenny Craig may still seek review by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which has as recently as September 2018 taken up cases to clarify the interplay between New Jersey contract law and the FAA.

For more information on arbitration, the FAA and this decision please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Chair of the Firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at keinhorn@genovaburns.com or Jennifer Borek, Esq., Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at jborek@genovaburns.com.


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Federal Circuit Paves Way for Additional Discovery in Autonomous Car Case

The Federal Circuit reinforced limits on its own jurisdiction by rejecting an appeal brought by intervenor Anthony Levandowski in the much-publicized case Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc., et al., No. 17-cv-00939-WHA (N.D. Cal.). The Federal Circuit’s September 13, 2017, decision relies heavily on – and leaves intact – two District Court rulings compelling the production of certain potentially important discovery materials.

According to Waymo’s allegations, Levandowski, its former employee, improperly downloaded information relating to Waymo’s driverless vehicle technology, and then left Waymo to found Ottomoto (“Otto”), which was subsequently acquired by Uber.  Before Uber’s acquisition was complete, attorneys for Otto and Uber jointly retained Stroz Friedberg, LLC (“Stroz”) to investigate Otto employees who had previously worked for Waymo, including Levandowski.  The resulting report by Stroz is at the heart of the discovery dispute at issue.

During discovery, the Magistrate Judge granted Waymo’s motion to compel Otto and Uber to produce the Stroz report, and also refused to quash Waymo’s subpoena to Stroz seeking the report and related documents.  Both rulings were affirmed by the District Court.  His subsequent appeal to the Federal Circuit acknowledged that the appellate court’s two main avenues to jurisdiction – final judgments relating to patents and certain special categories of interlocutory orders – would not apply in this case.  Instead, Levandowski argued that his appeal should be treated as a petition for a writ of mandamus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1651(a), a general statute that grants all courts created by Congress the power to issue “all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their jurisdictions[.]”  Levandowski argued that such a writ was necessary because disclosure of the Stroz report would violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  He also argued that the Perlman doctrine, which permits a privilege-holder to immediately appeal a discovery order aimed at a disinterested third-party custodian, should apply.

In rejecting each of Levandowski’s arguments, the Federal Circuit first noted that a writ of mandamus was only appropriate if, among other things, the petitioner had no other adequate means of relief, and could show a clear and indisputable right to issuance of the writ.  According to the court, a post-judgment appeal would suffice to protect Levandowski’s rights.  Additionally, he failed to establish a clear right to issuance of the writ, as the District Court’s legal conclusions were proper, including the findings that Levandowski couldn’t invoke the attorney-client privilege, work-product doctrine, common interest doctrine, or Fifth Amendment to prevent disclosure of the Stroz report.  Lastly, the court rejected the doctrine’s application in this case because Uber is not a disinterested third-party, but is instead a defendant in the case.

For more information on intellectual property law, trade secret issues, or the implications of Waymo, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Director of the firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group at keinhorn@genovaburns.com, or Jennifer Borek, Esq., a Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Group at jborek@genovaburns.com.

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