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Business Law Legal Research Blog

GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS: Supreme Court Decision Aids Veteran-Owned Business

Posted by Charlene J. Hicks on Tue, Nov 1, 2016 @ 13:11 PM

Charlene Hicks, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1969 (2016), the United States Supreme Court recently declared that the Department of Veterans Affairs (the "VA") is required to give priority to veteran-owned businesses in the bidding process for government contracts as long as two or more veteran-owned small businesses may reasonably be expected to submit fair and reasonable bids. This unanimous decision should provide a boon to veteran-owned businesses and should also give government agencies pause in assessing bids for contract work.

     The Kingdomware dispute originated shortly after the enactment of the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the "VA Act"). The VA Act provides that the VA must restrict bid competitions to veteran-owned companies as long as the "rule of two" is satisfied. Specifically, 38 U.S.C. § 8127(d) states:

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Topics: Charlene J. Hicks, VA priority, government contracts, veteran-owned business

BANKRUPTCY: Rejection or Assumption of Executory Contracts Under 11 U.S.C. § 365

Posted by Anne B. Hemenway on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 @ 11:08 AM

Anne Hemenway—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     A personal service contract, such as one between an artist and a manager or between a recording group and a record company, may be rejected or assumed under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Generally, such management or promotional agreements are considered to be executory contracts under 11 U.S.C. § 365(a). An executory contract under § 365 is not specifically defined, but the term commonly refers to a contract that has performance due from both the debtor and the contracting party. In re Gen. Datacomm Indus., 407 F.3d 616 (3d Cir. 2005). Professor Vern Countryman's definition in Executory Contracts in Bankruptcy: Part I, 57 Minn. L. Rev. 439, 460 (1973), is considered to be the definitive definition of an executory contract.

     A trustee or debtor-in-possession has a right to assume or reject executory contracts under § 365 within the time frames set forth in § 365(d), but the agreement remains in effect pending the actual act of assumption or rejection. In re Nat'l Steel Corp., 316 B.R. 287 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 2004). If a personal service contract is rejected, it is considered breached under § 365(g) as of the date immediately preceding the date the bankruptcy petition was filed.

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Topics: bankruptcy, contracts, Anne B. Hemenway, executory, personal service contract, performance by debtor and contracting party

APPELLATE BRIEF WRITING: Mistakes Can Be Fatal to Your Case

Posted by Nicole Prysby on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 @ 11:06 AM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 5

Nicole Prysby, Senior Attorney,National Legal Research Group

     "Judges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs." United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991). The frustration evident in this quote is shared by many appellate judges. The appellate process is already an uphill battle, and presenting the court with a brief that is not compelling or, even worse, is noncompliant with court rules makes it even harder. The vast majority of appeals are resolved without oral argument, which means that the brief is likely the only chance an attorney will have to present a client's case on appeal.

     The consequences of an inadequate or noncompliant brief range from frustrating the court to having the appeal dismissed. In egregious cases, sanctions may even be imposed. For example, sanctions were imposed against counsel in one case involving the failure to observe line spacing, font, and footnote rules. Kano v. Nat'l Consumer Co-op. Bank, 22 F.3d 899 (9th Cir. 1994). In another case, the court suggested that counsel should be liable for malpractice for a brief that was egregiously noncompliant with court rules. Kushner v. Winterthur Swiss Ins. Co., 620 F.2d 404 (3d Cir. 1980). In Kushner, failure to comply with federal rules for the brief and appendix not only led to dismissal of the appeal but also prompted the court to suggest that a client facing this situation "may wish to proceed against his or her counsel in an action for malpractice." Id. at 408. The court also stated that "[w]e note with extreme melancholy that this case is not an isolated example." Id.

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Topics: noncompliance consequences, appeal dismissal, Nicole Prysby, appellate brief writing

TRADEMARKS: The Slants and the Redskins—Federal Circuit Rules That Excluding "Disparaging Remarks" Violates First Amendment

Posted by Timothy J. Snider on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 @ 13:02 PM

The Lawletter Vol. 41, No. 2

Tim Snider, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     There has been considerable dispute about the propriety of the continuing use of the mark and name REDSKINS by the Washington NFL franchise. It is claimed by some that the word "redskin" is considered offensive by aboriginal Americans and others. Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse, 62 F. Supp. 3d 498, 113 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1749 (E.D. Va. 2014). While that case is on appeal, the Federal Circuit, which hears the bulk of trademark cases, has rendered a decision that could place in doubt whether the cancellation of the REDSKINS trademark by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the "TTAB") can be sustained. See Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., 111 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1080 (T.T.A.B. 2014) (Cancellation No. 92046185).

     Section 2(a) of the Lanham Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), prohibits registration of a trademark that "[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute." In re Tam, No. 2014-1203, 2015 WL 9287035 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 22, 2015), involved the attempted registration by the representative of an Asian-American rock/dance band of its trademark THE SLANTS. The applicant for the mark is himself Asian-American, but the examiner nonetheless refused registration on the basis that the mark was likely disparaging to "persons of Asian descent" within the meaning of section 2(a). The TTAB agreed and sustained the refusal to register the mark.

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Topics: trademarks, First Amendment, Timothy J. Snider, trademark registration, Redskins

CIVIL PROCEDURE: Scope of the Commercial Activity Exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Posted by Suzanne L. Bailey on Tue, Feb 9, 2016 @ 12:02 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 1

Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602–1611, shields foreign governments and their agencies from suit in U.S. courts unless the suit falls within an exception specifically enumerated in the Act. In a recent decision, OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs, 136 S. Ct. 390, 392 (2015), a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court considered the commercial activity exception, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2), and concluded that the exception did not extend to the purchase of a Eurail pass in the United States.

     Carol Sachs, a California resident, purchased a Eurail pass over the Internet from a Massachusetts-based travel agent. Eurail passes allow holders unlimited passage for a set period of time on participating Eurail Group railways, including OBB Personenverkehr AG ("OBB"), the Austrian state-owned railway. As she was attempting to board an OBB train in Innsbruck, Austria, Ms. Sachs fell from the platform onto the tracks, where a moving train crushed her legs, requiring amputation of each leg above the knee. She brought suit for her injuries in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on the grounds of (1) negligence, (2) strict liability for design defects in the train and platform, (3) strict liability for failure to warn of the design defects, (4) breach of an implied warranty of merchantability for providing a train and platform unsafe for their intended uses, and (5) breach of an implied warranty of fitness for providing a train and platform unfit for their intended uses.

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Topics: civil procedure, Suzanne Bailey, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, commercial activity exception

CONTRACTS: Agreements to Negotiate Distinguished from Agreements to Agree

Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 @ 17:12 PM

Paul Ferrer—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Courts often give voice to the black-letter principle that a so-called "agreement to agree, where [material] terms are left to future negotiations, is unenforceable." In re Estate of Wyman, 8 N.Y.S.3d 493, 494 (App. Div. 2015). Some courts have concluded that an agreement to negotiate at a later date is an unenforceable agreement to agree. See, e.g., 77 Constr. Co. v. UXB Int'l, Inc., No. 7:13-CV-340, 2015 WL 926036, at *4 (W.D. Va. Mar. 4, 2015). But other courts have distinguished unenforceable agreements to agree from valid agreements to negotiate in good faith. See, e.g., Copeland v. Baskin Robbins, U.S.A., 117 Cal. Rptr. 2d 875 (Ct. App. 2002).

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Topics: contracts, Paul A. Ferrer, validity, agreement to agree, agreement to negotiate

LABOR LAW: More on Deflategate

Posted by Suzanne L. Bailey on Wed, Nov 4, 2015 @ 13:11 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 9

Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Whether you believe that quarterback Tom Brady was aware that the New England Patriots were using allegedly deflated footballs during the January 18, 2015 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts or whether you are unsure what sport the Patriots and Colts play or whether they play the same sport, the recent decision by U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman in National Football League Management Council v. National Football League Players Ass'n, Nos. 15 Civ. 5916 RMB JCF, 15 Civ. 5982 RMB JCF, 2015 WL 5148739 (S.D.N.Y. signed Sept. 3, 2015), appeal filed, No. 15-2805 (2d Cir. Sept. 3, 2105), vacating the arbitration award in favor of the National Football League ("NFL"), provides a valuable primer on basic notice and hearing requirements under the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA").

     As has been well publicized, shortly after the conclusion of the January 18, 2015 game, the NFL retained Theodore V. Wells Jr. and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton & Garrison ("Paul, Weiss"), to conduct an independent investigation—along with NFL Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash—into the use of underinflated balls. The source of authority for the investigation was the NFL Policy on Integrity of the Game and Enforcement of Competitive Rules ("Competitive Integrity Policy").

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Topics: labor law, Suzanne Bailey, deflated football, Tom Brady, AFC Championship

CIVIL PROCEDURE: Filing of Postjudgment Motion Tolls Deadline to Move for Attorney's Fees

Posted by Charlene J. Hicks on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 @ 09:10 AM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 9

Charlene Hicks, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     For a prevailing party in a civil lawsuit to obtain attorney's fees, he or she must file a motion requesting fees by a statutory deadline. Problematically, however, many state statutes do not specify whether this deadline is tolled by the filing of a postjudgment motion. As a result, counsel may be placed in the awkward position of deciding whether to move for attorney's fees while the losing party's postjudgment motion is pending before the court.

      The effect of a postjudgment motion on the time in which a prevailing party must move for attorney's fees was recently addressed in Barbara Ann Hollier Trust v. Shack, Nos. 63308, 64047, 2015 WL 4656697 (Nev. Aug. 6, 2015). There, the court noted that Rule 54(d) of the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure requires a prevailing party to move for attorney's fees within 20 days after service of notice of entry of judgment. However, in the case before the court, the losing party filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, for a new trial before the prevailing party moved for attorney's fees. The prevailing party did not file any motion for attorney's fees until after the court denied the losing party's postjudgment motions.

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Topics: civil procedure, tolling, Charlene J. Hicks, motion for attorney's fees

CIVIL PROCEDURE: Right to Appeal Dismissal of Case Consolidated for Pretrial Proceedings in Multidistrict Litigation

Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Wed, Sep 9, 2015 @ 10:09 AM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 7

Paul Ferrer, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Federal law permits "civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact" that are pending in different districts to be transferred to any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings by the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation ("MDL"). 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a). Another federal statute grants an unsuccessful litigant in a federal district court the right to take an appeal, as a matter of right, from a "final decision" of the district court. Id. § 1291. In Gelboim v. Bank of America Corp., 135 S. Ct. 897 (2015), the Supreme Court decided the question of whether the right to appeal secured by § 1291 is affected when a case is consolidated for MDL pretrial proceedings under § 1407.

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Topics: Paul A. Ferrer, civil procedure, multidistrict legislation, The Lawletter Vol 40 No 7

TRADEMARKS: Effect in Court of Decision by TTAB

Posted by Timothy J. Snider on Mon, Jul 27, 2015 @ 09:07 AM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 6

Tim Snider—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In opposed trademark registration proceedings, the administrative adjudicative body is the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ("TTAB"). It hears the appeals of applicants for registration and of those who oppose registration who are aggrieved by the decision of the Patent and Trademark Office whether to grant or deny registration to an application for registration of a trademark. There is a further level of appeal to the Federal Circuit, and a plaintiff can always seek cancellation of a registered trademark in district court. An issue often involved in registration proceedings is whether there is a likelihood of confusion between the applicant's mark and the opposer's mark. Unlike court proceedings, there is no discovery and no live testimony. The TTAB makes its decision based on the written record that is submitted to it by the parties. If the TTAB makes a determination that there is a risk of confusion between the marks in suit, what weight should be assigned to that determination by a court that is hearing a dispute between two markholders, one of whom claims that the other's mark infringes on its mark?

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Topics: trademarks, Timothy J. Snider, TTAB, registration proceedings, B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries

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