Supreme Court Rules Retailer Physical Presence No Longer Required For States to Tax Sales in Wayfair Decision

In a highly anticipated decision issued today, the Supreme Court overruled decades of its own precedent and held that states can require out-of-state retailers to collect and remit sales tax proceeds, even if the business has no physical presence in the state.  The Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, No. 17-494 (2018), could have a significant impact on retailers who sell goods or services through the internet, as states rush to enact legislation forcing online sellers to collect and remit sales tax for transactions within those states.

The case was a challenge by Wayfair and other on-line retailers to a South Dakota law requiring large out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax as if the seller had a physical presence in the state.  In two previous cases – National Bellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Ill., 386 U.S. 753 (1967) and Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992) the Supreme Court had ruled that states could not require sellers to collect and remit sales taxes if they had no physical presence in the state.  In those situations, states were forced to rely on their residents to voluntarily pay sales tax owed on purchases.  The Court noted that consumer compliance is as low as 4%, causing states to lose as much as $33 billion in combined sales tax revenue every year.

Referring to the “internet revolution” and the modern dynamics of the national economy, Justice Kennedy writing for a majority of the Court overruled Bellas Hess and Quill, finding that the rule in those cases amounted to a judicially-created tax shelter for businesses with no physical presence in a state.  The Court noted that modern e-commerce does not analytically align with a test based on the physical location of brick-and-mortar stores.  Instead of the physical location test, the Court concluded, to be subject to a state’s tax, there must be a “substantial nexus” between the state and the taxed activity.  Just how substantial a nexus remains to be seen and will likely result in future litigation.

The dissenting opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, agreed that the Court’s older decisions were wrong, but contended that Congress, not the Court, should fix the problem and determine the extent to which states may burden interstate sellers with the duty to collect sales or use taxes.

For more information on the implications of Wayfair, 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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Supreme Court Paves the Way to Sports Wagering

In a victory for states’ rights and sports fans looking to cash in on their insight, the Supreme Court ruled today in favor of allowing states to determine whether to legalize sports wagering in Murphy v. NCAA.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act’s (“PASPA”) prohibition of state authorization of sports wagering violated the Tenth Amendment’s anti-commandeering doctrine, saying that the provision “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do… A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”  Justice Alito then refuted the respondents’ preemption arguments on the grounds that the Constitution “confers upon Congress the power to regulate individuals, not States,” and PASPA’s prohibition on state authorization can, in no way, be understood as a prohibition on individuals.  Finally, the Court determined that offending portion of PASPA is not severable from the rest of PASPA and, therefore, the entire statute is struck down.

Justice Thomas concurred with the opinion but expressed his concern regarding the Court’s method in determining the severability of offending sections of a statute.  Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion that Congress was within its authority to prohibit sports wagering since the activity substantially affects interstate commerce, and even if the prohibition is unconstitutional, it is severable from the law and PASPA should still stand.  Justice Breyer concurred in part with the majority decision that PASPA’s prohibition of state authorization of sports wagering was unconstitutional, but he agreed with Justice Ginsburg in that the provision is severable from the rest of the statute.

Does this mean you can start wagering on MLB games and the NHL playoffs?  Since the Court reversed the Third Circuit’s decision regarding the State’s 2014 sports wagering law, casinos and racetrack may engage in sports wagering, and each individual venue is left to craft their own regulation.  However, the casinos and racetracks are now waiting for the State Legislature to create a regulatory framework.  Legislation was introduced recently that will do just that (Assembly Bill No. 3911 was introduced on May 7, and Senate Bill No. 2602 was introduced today).  Senate President Stephen Sweeney said that the Senate intends to move quickly on sports wagering and anticipates passage by early June.

For more information about the potential impacts of this ruling or what steps you can take to effectively leverage same, please contact Nicholas R. Amato, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Casino & Gaming Law Practice Group, at namato@genovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.

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New Jersey Supreme Court Unanimously Limits Scope of Consumer Protection Statute

The New Jersey Supreme Court issued an important decision on the scope of the New Jersey consumer protection statute called the Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act or TCCWNA.

The two class action matters involved allegations that Select Comfort Corp. and Bob’s Discount Furniture violated the TCCWNA by failing to include, among other things, specific language regarding a consumer’s right to cancel an order as a result of delayed delivery. The Supreme Court held that a violation of this regulation could constitute a violation of a “clearly established legal right or responsibility of sellers” to constitute a violation of TCCWNA.

Separately, and of broader significance, the Supreme Court was asked whether a consumer must suffer an actual adverse consequence to be entitled to the statutory minimum penalty of $100 per person provided by the TCCWNA.  None of the plaintiffs in either of the cases had alleged that they suffered any actual harm, monetarily or otherwise, from the defendants’ technical violations of the regulations.   The question before the Court was whether these plaintiffs could be considered “aggrieved consumers” to qualify for TCCWNA’s statutory penalties.

Analyzing the statutory language, the unanimous Supreme Court noted that certain sections of the TCCWNA use the term “consumers” whereas the term “aggrieved consumer” was used in the section of the TCCWNA discussing damages. The addition of the term “aggrieved” before “consumer,” the Court held, must be given meaning and, under a plain reading of this word, denotes the plaintiff’s suffering some actual harm, even non-monetary harm.  As an example of the type of harm that may be sufficient to render a consumer “aggrieved” under the TCCWNA, the Supreme Court hypothesized a potential furniture seller customer who contends he would have sought a refund after a late furniture delivery but did not because of a company’s “no refund” statement (in violation of the regulation).

The Supreme Court’s decision will likely impact the uptick in putative class actions filed by consumers under TCCWNA. In addition to reducing the number of individuals who might be entitled to TCCWNA statutory damages, the decision will also make it more difficult for consumers to maintain class actions since each class member potentially must demonstrate that they suffered an “adverse consequence.”

For more information on the Supreme Court’s decision, the TCCWNA or consumer class actions, 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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Supreme Court Clarifies Appeal Timing for Consolidated Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that when a final decision has been issued in one of several consolidated civil cases, the losing party can immediately appeal, even if other of the consolidated cases are ongoing. Hall v. Hall, No. 16-1150.

The decision, though technical, resolves an issue that has vexed lower courts and litigants.  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a) gives the district courts broad discretion to consolidate different actions involving “common questions of law or fact.” Hall involved cases consolidated in the Federal District Court in the Virgin Islands, relating to an inter-family dispute between siblings about rents collected for a vacation home.  At trial, the jury ruled against the daughter in both cases, awarding the son $2 million in damages, but entering separate judgments. The daughter appealed the judgment in one case, even though post-trial proceedings remained in the individual case.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal stating that it lacked jurisdiction because the trust judgment was not final when the claims concerning the individual case remained in the district court.

Reversing the Third Circuit, the unanimous Supreme Court (in a decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts) explained that had the actions not been consolidated, there would be no issue as to whether the daughter had the right to appeal the judgment in the trust case because the litigation was final. After reviewing cases from the founding of the country and the original 1813 statute, the Court held that that consolidation is a matter of convenience and judicial economy and does not merge the suits or change the rights of parties or make a party to one action a party to another consolidated action.

For unsuccessful litigants whose cases have been consolidated, the decision in Hall reaffirms their ability to appeal immediately without waiting for the rest of the consolidated cases to finish.  On the flip side, parties must now be alert and understand that even though two or three cases between the same or similar defendants and different plaintiffs have been consolidated, the time to appeal for one case will begin to run.  The decision will most likely impact large companies that are often the target of class action, product liability, or mass tort litigation where there are a vast number of claims against them and similar defendants.

For more information on the Supreme Court’s decision, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Director 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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New Jersey Supreme Court Holds that Consumers Cannot Pursue Class Action Claims Against TGI Fridays for Inflated Drink Prices, But May Do So Against Carrabba’s Italian Grill

The New Jersey Supreme Court issued a decision on two consumer class actions under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”) and the Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”).  In two separate cases, consumers sought damages against TGI Fridays and the operator of several Carrabba’s Italian Grill, respectively, alleging unlawful practices with respect to the disclosure of prices for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to customers.

With respect to TGI Fridays, the Court held that the named plaintiffs failed to show that common questions of law and fact predominate over individual issues.  The plaintiff had advanced a “price inflation” theory – that the fraudulent marketing drove up the cost of the drinks – but the Court rejected it noting that its prior decisions had found this theory did not support a claim under the CFA.

With respect to Carrabba’s, on the other hand, the plaintiff’s allegations focused on specific pricing practices, which plaintiff claimed are supported by receipts showing that each customer making this claim was charged different prices for the same brand, type, and volume of beverage in the course of a single visit. Because the proposed class had been redefined to only include customers who make that specific CFA claim, they met the predominance requirement for class certification.

In both cases, the Court found that the plaintiffs had failed to meet the standards for a class action as to their TCCWNA claims. Under TCCWNA, a claimant must prove that they received a written sign (here, a menu), which contained information in violation of a consumer law.  Because each individual claimant would have to prove that they received a menu, the Court held, the cases were not suitable for resolution as a class action.

For more information on class actions, the CFA or TCCWNA, 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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Supreme Court Narrows Choice of Court to File Patent Infringement Actions

The Supreme Court used a dispute over flavored drink mix to settle a question regarding the proper venue for patent infringement actions, unanimously ruling in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC, No. 16-341, that such actions, when brought in the venue where a defendant corporation “resides”, may only be brought in the judicial district where the corporation is incorporated.

The patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. §1400(b), provides that patent infringement actions may be brought in “the judicial district where the defendant resides or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  Interpreting that law in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp., the Supreme Court held that a domestic corporation “resides” only in its state of incorporation for patent venue– differing from the general venue statute, 28 U.S.C. §1391(c), which provided that a corporate defendant “resides” in any state in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction, including any state in which the corporation conducts a sufficient amount of business.  A 1988 congressional amendment to the general venue statute appeared to expand its scope and undermine the holding in Fourco.  Indeed, in 1990, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the general venue statute had generally supplanted the patent venue statute, and that corporations could be sued for patent infringement in any venue where the corporation was subject to personal jurisdiction.

However, the Supreme Court held in TC Heartland that Congress did not intend to supplant or change the meaning of the patent venue statute as set forth in Fourco.  The Court noted, among other things, that congressional amendments to the general venue statute in 2011 clarified that it does not apply when venue is “otherwise provided by law,” and deleted statutory language broadening the scope of the law.

Although the Court’s ruling is technical in nature, it will have a real effect on where patent infringement plaintiffs can file lawsuits.  Commentators have predicted that the decision will increase litigation in Delaware, New York, and California.

For more information on intellectual property law or the implications of TC Heartland, 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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Supreme Court Clarifies Rules on International Service by Mail

Resolving an issue that has divided state courts and the federal circuit courts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in Walter Splash, Inc. v. Menon, No. 16-254, that the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters (referred to colloquially as the Hague Service Convention), permits parties to serve documents by mail so long as the recipient’s country has not objected.

At issue was Article 10(a) of the Hague Service Convention, which reads: “Provided the State of destination does not object, the present Convention shall not interfere with— (a) the freedom to send judicial documents, by postal channels, directly to persons abroad.”  Rejecting a narrower reading, the Court held that the phrase “send judicial documents” must be read broadly to include service of initial process.  The Service Convention allows for service by mail, the Court reiterated, if the recipient’s country has not objected and such service is otherwise authorized under applicable law.

Beyond resolving a previously unresolved issue, Justice Alito’s unanimous opinion for the Court is notable for another reason:  unlike other opinions interpreting domestic statutes in which Justice Alito and other Justices have refused to look at “legislative history,” the Walter Splash decision looks to various “external” sources as an aid to interpretation.  The French version of the Hague Service Convention must also be considered as “equally authentic,” Justice Alito wrote, and it includes the word addresser, which has been interpreted to mean “service or notice.”  Justice Alito also pointed to the statements and testimony of Philip Amram, member of the U.S. delegation involved in drafting Hague Service Convention, and his article written shortly after the treaty’s passage, earlier drafts of the Convention, which stated that service by mail would be allowed.  Justice Alito also pointed to the decisions of courts in other countries – Canada, the U.K., Greece, and the Court of Justice of the European Communities – that have similarly decided the issue.

For more information about the Hague Service Convention or managing litigation against a non-U.S. based entity 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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Supreme Court to Review Whether “Offensive” Names Can Be Trademarked

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review the Federal Circuit’s decision to strike down the Lanham Act’s ban on “disparaging” trademarks.  The case, Lee v. Tam, No. 15-1293, involved an Asian American dance-rock band’s attempt to trademark their name THE SLANTS. The U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused, citing the Lanham Act’s prohibition on “disparaging” trademarks. The Federal Circuit held that this prohibition violated trademark applicants’ First Amendment Rights. (See Litigation Law Blog’s previous post about the Federal Circuit’s decision from December 23, 2015.)

The Supreme Court’s decision could impact the more famous battle over an attempt to cancel the trademark registration for the NFL’s Washington Redskins as disparaging to Native Americans.

In the Washington Redskins case, a federal district court had ruled that the football team’s trademark disparaged Native Americans.  The team had appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was scheduled to hold oral argument in December.  On October 18, 2016, the Fourth Circuit agreed to stay consideration of the appeal until the Supreme Court decides Lee v. Tam.

For more information on the Lanham Act or the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Lee v. Tam, 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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Supreme Court Reiterates the FAA’s Preemptive Authority

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court in DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia, 577 U.S. ___, No. 14-462, slip op. at 1 (Dec. 14, 2015), doubled down on its previous holdings that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) preempts state law judicial interpretations that do not place arbitration contracts “on an equal footing with all other contracts.” Imburgia is the Supreme Court’s latest rebuke of state courts that are hostile to arbitration clauses and class-arbitration waivers, and signals to lower courts that they may not utilize state contract law principles to interpret arbitration provisions so as to end-run the mandates of the FAA.

In 2005, the California Court of Appeal held in Discover Bank v. Superior Court that class-arbitration waivers were unenforceable in “consumer contract[s] of adhesion” that “predictably involve[d] small amount of damages” and met certain other criteria (known as the Discover Bank rule). In 2011, the Supreme Court decided AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, which held that the FAA preempts state law that bars enforcement of arbitration agreements if such agreements do not permit parties to utilize class-action procedures in arbitration or in court, thus invalidating the Discover Bank rule. The Supreme Court found that the Discover Bank rule stood as an “obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives” of the FAA.

Compounding on its holding in Concepcion, the Supreme Court in Imburgia declared that Section 2 of the FAA preempts state law interpretation of a contract’s arbitration provision based on a rule that the state’s courts had applied only in the arbitration context, concluding that such a ruling “does not rest ‘upon such grounds as exist . . . for the revocation of any contract.’”

In Imburgia, Petitioner DIRECTV, Inc. entered into a service agreement with customers containing an arbitration provision governed by the FAA that provided for a class-arbitration waiver reading: “if the ‘law of your state’ makes the waiver of class arbitration unenforceable, then the entire arbitration provision ‘is unenforceable.’” Following a class action brought by Respondents in California state court, DIRECTV moved to compel arbitration, which was denied by the trial court. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the “law of your state” language in the arbitration provision meant that that the parties had agreed that California’s Discover Bank rule would govern, notwithstanding the holding of Concepcion.

The Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, reversed and remanded, finding that because such an interpretation of the arbitration clause was “unique, restricted to that field,” and because “California courts would not interpret contracts other than arbitration contracts the same way,” the interpretation was impermissible as preempted by the FAA. Going forward, the Supreme Court has made explicit that arbitration agreements, and specifically class-arbitration waivers, should be enforced by state courts—even in the face of a state’s former invalidation of such waivers. Imburgia stands as the latest in a series of pro-arbitration rulings under Chief Justice Roberts, and instructs states that its courts may not use novel interpretations of state contract law to intrude on otherwise valid arbitration agreements.

For more information on the FAA or implications of DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Director of the firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at keinhorn@genovaburns.com.

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