ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Pink Tax

Although some things bear little direct relation to Contracts Law, they are still worth mentioning here for their inherent news value and for potential classroom use by creative law professors. Here’s one such story:

Both British and American studies show that women pay an average of… 48% more for items targeted for women compared to those for men.  This “sexist pricing” pattern is reflected in, for example, razors costing 11% more for women than those for men, jeans allegedly 10% more (I would personally have thought more than that, but that’s another story), skin lotion around $15 for women, but similar lotion $10 for men.

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A report by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, released in December, found similar patterns. It compared nearly 800 products with clear male and female versions from more than 90 brands sold in New York, both online and in stores. It found that women pay more in 42% of cases.

Similarly, a bill in California calling for lawmakers to exempt tampons and sanitary pads from the state sales tax got a big endorsement in January from the board that administers the state's sales taxes. A few other states such as Utah, Virginia and New York have introduced similar bills. Even President Obama seems to subscribe to the notion that women should not have to pay tax on products they simply have to have because of Mother Nature’s demands. When asked in a recent interview if he felt it was right that tampons are taxed, he said, “I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making the laws when these were passed.” Well, not quite: states typically just tax all goods and exempt some. But states such as California don’t tax foods, for example. Time truly seems to have come to exempt some other goods.

British Labor Party MP Paula Sheriff sums up the issue well “[w]omen are paid less and are expected to spend more on products and services ... they are charged more simply for being women.” The only thing that should also be mentioned, in all fairness, is the price of clothing and shoes. I personally find those items much cheaper than men’s clothes, but I’m also not a brand-conscious person.   As long as it fits and looks good, I don’t care whether it’s called one thing or another, so my anecdote may not fit into the “pink tax” story and protests which are gaining momentum in several nations.

February 4, 2016 in Commentary, Current Affairs, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Uniform Commercial Code: 2016 Legislative Agenda

ULCLogoThe Uniform Commercial Code is widely recognized as one of the great successes in the more-than-a-century-long history of drafting uniform state laws and model acts. Most parts of this joint enterprise between the American Law Institute (ALI) and Uniform Law Commission (ULC) have been adopted in all 50 states and other United States jurisdictions. Perhaps more remarkable than the UCC’s original wide adoption in the late 1960s is that the Code has been the subject major revisions over the past fifty years that themselves have gained widespread adoption, as we previously documented in some detail here.

These enactments don't just happen on their own, however, as the Uniform Law Commission targets and supports efforts to gain particular enactments in particular jurisdictions. Below is a copy of the ULC's Legislative Agenda for the Uniform Commercial Code for 2016. US Virgin IslandsOne piece of the agenda that stands out to me, as it affects a topic I've previously written about, is the plan to seek enactment of the 2008 version of Article 1's section 1-301 in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The Virgin Islands is a noteworthy jurisdiction for being the only adopter of the 2001 rewrite of UCC Article 1 in its entirety, including its controversial (to Americans, at least) choice-of-law section that permitted parties to non-consumer UCC-governed contracts to choose governing law that had no relationship to the contract. The 2001 version of section 1-301 achieved no other enactments before being abandoned by the Commission in 2008 in favor of language tracking original-section 1-105, which required chosen contract law to bear a "reasonable relation" to a transaction.

Read on to see if there is any activity planned of interest to you or your state.

2016 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE FOR UCC ARTICLES

  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 1 (2001) [1] :  

 

    • Plans for introduction in 2016: Missouri; U.S. Virgin Islands (UCC1-301 Amendment).
    • UCC Article 1 (2001) has been adopted in 51 jurisdictions: Alabama[2], Alaska, Arizona2, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii2, Idaho2, Illinois2, Indiana2, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland2, Massachusetts, Michigan2, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska2, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island2, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah2, Vermont, Virginia2, U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 2A (1987) (1990): 

 

    • UCC Article 2A (1987)(1990) has been adopted in 51 jurisdictions. It has not been adopted in Louisiana, Puerto Rico.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLES 3 AND 4 (1990):  

 

    • Plans for introduction in 2016: New York.
    • UCC Articles 3 and 4 (1990) have been adopted in 52 jurisdictions. They have not been adopted in: New York.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLES 3 AND 4 (2002):  

 

    • Plans for introduction in 2016: Massachusetts, Ohio.
    • UCC Articles 3 and 4 (2002) have been adopted in 12 jurisdictions: Arkansas, District of Columbia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 4A (1989): 

 

    • UCC Article 4A (1989) has been adopted in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 4A AMENDMENT (2012):   

 

    •  Plans for introduction in 2016: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah.
    • UCC Article 4A Amendment (2012) has been adopted in 44 jurisdictions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 5 (1995): 

 

    • UCC Article 5 (1995) has been adopted in 52 jurisdictions. It has not been adopted in: Puerto Rico.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 6 (1989): 

 

    • UCC Article 6 (1989) has been revised in one state: California. UCC6 has been repealed in 51 jurisdictions. It has not been repealed or revised in: Maryland.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 7 (2003):  

 

    • Plans for introduction in 2016: Missouri, U.S. Virgin Islands.
    • UCC Article 7 (2003) has been adopted in 50 jurisdictions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 8 (1994): 

 

    • UCC Article 8 (1994) has been adopted in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 9 (1999): 

 

    • UCC Article 9 (1999) has been adopted in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • UPDATE ON UCC ARTICLE 9 (2010): 

 

  • Plans for introduction in 2016: U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • UCC Article 9 (2010) has been adopted in 52 jurisdictions: Alabama1, Alaska2, Arizona1, Arkansas1, California3, Colorado2, Connecticut2, Delaware2, District of Columbia1, Florida1, Georgia1, Hawaii1, Idaho1, Illinois1, Indiana1, Iowa1, Kansas1, Kentucky1, Louisiana1, Maine1, Maryland1, Massachusetts1, Michigan1, Minnesota1, Mississippi1, Missouri1, Montana1, Nebraska1, Nevada1, New Hampshire2, New Jersey1, New Mexico1, New York1, North Carolina1, North Dakota1, Ohio1, Oklahoma1, Oregon2, Pennsylvania1, Puerto Rico1, Rhode Island1, South Carolina1, South Dakota1, Tennessee1, Texas1, Utah1, Vermont1, Virginia1, Washington2, West Virginia1, Wisconsin1, Wyoming2.

[1] Choice of Law provision:  All enacting jurisdictions except the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted the choice-of-law provision (Section 1-301) in the 2008 Official Text.  The USVI enactment includes the 2001 text of that section.

[2] Definition of “good faith”:  retains the good faith standard found in pre-revised UCC1.

February 4, 2016 in Current Affairs, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mobile Carriers Give up Two-year Contracts

Mobile carriers seem to have grown tired of, effectively, being in the loan business funding people’s new phones. American consumers were used to this model, which was a way for phone companies to hide the large price of a new phone into a monthly bill.

More recently, consumers want to change their phones more often than every two plus years, so many prefer paying up front for their phones to be able to change plans whenever they want to instead of having to wait out a long-term contract (or risk sanctions if breaching it).

All the major carriers – T-Mobile, Verizon, Spring and now AT&T – have now shifted away from two-year contracts. The question now is whether consumers will truly choose to pay for their phones in full at the point of purchase or, as has been mentioned, opt for installment plans that lets them upgrade more often than before remains to be seen. Given the price of phones, but also the seemingly insatiable need by many for new technology, installment contracts may be the likely end result. If so, it will be interesting to see how carriers will avoid tying people into long-term contracts, which has proved to be undesirable, but at the same time trying to do, at bottom, some of that via “installment contracts.”

January 31, 2016 in Current Affairs, E-commerce, In the News, Web/Tech | Permalink

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Uniform Commercial Code Adoptions: Here's the Current Scorecard

ULCLogoPerhaps the greatest and most unintended misnomer in the field of commercial law is that the Uniform Commercial Code is called the Uniform Commercial Code. A more accurate name might have been the As-Uniform-as-Possible-Given-that-States-Are-Going-to-Do-Their-Thing Commercial Code. (That name admittedly doesn't roll off the tongue nearly as well as "UCC."). The picture is further complicated by the fact that the official code has itself been amended many times over the last several decades. 

For those of us who are interested in the status of UCC adoptions, however, our friends at the Uniform Law Commission (or NCCUSL, if you prefer the old-school name) have produced a handy one-stop scorecard showing which jurisdictions have adopted which revisions of the UCC. The scorecard is dated December 1, 2015, but I'm told on good authority by my colleague and ULC guru Bill Henning that it remains current today. Use the knowledge below to amaze and impress your commercial law friends around the water cooler--or else to drive your non-commercial law friends away from the water cooler.

On a technical note, you might need a wide screen (i.e., not a smartphone) to view the table in its proper format.

 

UCC SCORECARD

 50+ State Survey of Adoptions of Revised Official Text of the UCC

STATES

UCC

UCC11

(2001)

UCC2A

(1990)

UCC3/4

(1990)

UCC3/4

(2002)

UCC4A

(1989)

UCC5

(1995)

UCC6

(1989)

UCC7

(2003)

UCC8

(1994)

UCC9

(1998)

UCC9

(2010)

Alabama

1965

20042

1992

1995

 

19923

1997

1996

2004

1996

2001

2014 A

Alaska

1962

2009

1993

1993

 

19933

1999

1993

2009

1996

2000

2013 B

Arizona

1967

20062

1992

1993

 

19913

1996

2004

2006

1995

1999

2014 A

Arkansas

1961

2005

1993

1991

2005

19913

1997

1991

2007

1995

2001

2013 A

California

1963

2006

1991

1992

 

19903

1996

Rev 90

2006

1996

1999

2013C

Colorado

1965

2006

1991

1994

 

19903

1996

1991

2006

1996

2001

2012 B

Connecticut

1959

2005

2002

1991

 

1990

1996

1993

2004

1997

2001

2011 B

Delaware

1966

2004

1992

1995

 

1992

1998

1996

2004

1997

2000

2013 B

DC

1964

2013

1992

1994

2013

19923

1997

2015

2013

1997

2000

2013 A

Florida

1965

2007

1990

1992

 

1991

1999

1993

2010

1998

2001

2012 A

Georgia

1962

2015

1993

1996

 

19923

2002

2015

2010

1998

2001

2013 A

Hawaii

1965

20042

1991

1991

 

19913

1996

1998

2004

1997

2000

2012 A

Idaho

1967

20042

1993

1993

 

19913

1996

1993

2004

1995

2001

2012 A

Illinois

1961

20082

1991

1991

 

19903

1996

1991

2008

1995

2000

2012 A

Indiana

1963

20072

1991

1993

2009

19913

1996

2007

2007

1995

2000

2011 A

Iowa

1965

2007

1994

1994

 

19923

1996

1994

2007

1997

2000

2012 A

Kansas

1965

2007

1991

1991

 

1990

1996

1992

2007

1996

2000

2012 A

Kentucky

1958

2006

1990

1996

2006

19923

2000

1992

2012

1996

2000

2012 A

Louisiana

1974

2006

 

1992

 

19903

1999

1991

2009

1995

2001

2012 A

Maine

1963

2009

1992

1993

 

19923

1997

1992

2009

1997

2000

2013 A

Maryland

1963

20122

1994

1996

 

19913

1997

 

2004

1996

1999

2012 A

Mass.

1957

2013

1996

1998

 

19913

1997

1996

2013

1996

2001

2013 A

Michigan

1962

20122

1992

1993

2014

19923

1998

1998

2012

1998

2000

2012 A

Minnesota

1965

2004

1991

1992

2003

19903

1997

1991

2004

1995

2000

2011 A

Mississippi

1966

2010

1994

1992

2010

19913

1996

1994

2006

1996

2001

2013 A

Missouri

1963

 

1992

1992

 

19923

1997

2004

 

1997

2001

2013 A

Montana

1963

2005

1991

1991

 

19913

1997

1991

2005

1997

1999

2013 A

Nebraska

1963

20052

1991

1991

 

19913

1996

1991

2005

1995

1999

2011 A

STATES

UCC

UCC1

(2001)

UCC2A

(1990)

UCC3/4

(1990)

UCC3/4

(2002)

UCC4A

(1989)

UCC5

(1995)

UCC6

(1989)

UCC7

(2003)

UCC8

(1994)

UCC9

(1998)

UCC9

(2010)

Nevada

1965

2005

1991

1993

2005

19913

1997

1991

2005

1997

1999

2011 A

NH

1959

2006

1993

1993

 

19933

1998

1993

2006

1998

2001

2012 B

NJ

1961

2013

1994

1995

 

19943

1997

1994

2013

1997

2001

2013 A

NM

1961

2005

1992

1992

2009

19923

1997

1992

2005

1996

2001

2013 A

New York

1962

2015

1994

   

19903

2000

2001

2015

1997

2001

2015 A

NC

1965

2006

1993

1995

 

19933

1999

2004

2006

1997

2001

2012 A

ND

1965

2007

1991

1991

 

19913

1997

1993

2005

1997

2001

2011 A

Ohio

1961

2011

1992

1994

 

19913

1997

1996

2011

1997

2001

2012 A

Oklahoma

1961

2005

1991

1991

2009

1990

1996

1997

2005

1995

2000

2015 A

Oregon

1961

2009

1989

1993

 

19913

1997

1991

2009

1995

2001

2012 B

Penn.

1953

2008

1992

1992

 

1992 3

2001

1992

2008

1996

2001

2013 A

PR

                   

2012

2012 A

RI

1961

20072

1991

2000

 

19913

2000

2001

2006

2000

2000

2011 A

SC

1966

2014

2001

2008

2008

19963

2001

2001

2014

2001

2000

2013 A

SD

1966

2008

1989

1994

 

19913

1998

1993

2009

1998

2000

2012 A

Tenn.

1963

2008

1993

1997

 

19913

1998

1998

2008

1997

2000

2012 A

Texas

1965

2003

1993

1995

2005

19933

1999

1993

2005

1995

1999

2011 A

USVI

1967

2002

2001

2000

 

2001

2000

2002

 

2002

2002

 

Utah

1965

20072

1993

1993

 

1990

1997

1996

2006

1996

2000

2013 A

Vermont

1966

2007

1994

1994

 

19943

1999

1994

2015

1996

2000

2014 A

Virginia

1964

20032

1991

1992

 

19903

1997

2011

2004

1996

2000

2012 A

Wash.

1965

2012

1993

1993

 

19913

1997

1993

2012

1995

2000

2011 A

WV

1963

2006

1996

1993

 

19903

1996

1992

2006

1995

2000

2012 A

Wisconsin

1963

2010

1992

1996

 

19923

2005

2009

2010

1998

2001

2012 A

Wyoming

1961

2015

1991

1991

 

1991

1997

1991

2015

1996

2001

2013B

TOTAL

53

51

51

52

12

53

52

52

50

53

53

52

(Last updated 12-1-15)

 

1 Choice of Law Provision: All enacting jurisdictions except the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted the choice-of-law provision (Section 1-301) in the 2008 Official Text. The USVI enactment includes the 2001 text of that section.

2 Definition of “good faith”: retains the good faith standard found in pre-revised UCC1.

3 Adopted the 2012 Amendment to UCC Article 4A.

A Adopted Alternative A of 9-503.

B Adopted Alternative B of 9-503.

C Adopted non-uniform safe harbor in 9-503.

January 27, 2016 in Current Affairs, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Futures Contracts for College Education

Since college and traditional student loans can be so expensive, why not create, in effect, “futures contracts” for post-college incomes? Ct-student-loan-debt-20150821

This relatively new and unknown funding idea is being tested by Purdue University in cooperation with financial services company Verno Education.  The loans are called “Income-share Agreements” or “ISAs.” Investors lend money to students in return for a certain percentage of the student’s future income for a set number of years. A few companies and NGOs in the United States are offering contracts on a limited, pilot basis, although the idea itself is not new: Economist Milton Friedman introduced the idea in the 1950s.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels has touted the idea, claiming that the loans “shift the risk of career shortcomings from student to investor: if the graduate earns less than expected, it is the investors who are disappointed; if the student decides to go off … to Nepal instead of working, the loss is entirely on the funding providers….” Voila, truly “debt-free-college” according to Daniels.

Not so fast. First, most college students of course end up finding a job. They will thus have to repay something. That something could easily be very expensive. For example, if a student borrowed $10,000 via a contract to repay 5% of her income for five years after graduation and ends up getting a $60,000 job, she or he will have to pay back $15,000 without compounded interest.

Student protections are currently poor. For example, there is no clarity as to whether the Fair Credit Reporting Act would apply. Further regulations of this area are necessary. Meanwhile, students will have to individually bargain these types of contracts very carefully.

January 23, 2016 in Current Affairs, Labor Contracts, Law Schools, Teaching, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Contracts Professors: Prepare to Meet Robolawyer

Do law students intending to practice in the areas of contracts and commercial law particularly need to consider the risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence?  It wouldn't hurt.

At this month's AALS annual meeting, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minnow made some headlines with her comments that the threat to the jobs of human lawyers from artificial intelligence is overhyped:

Minow said she didn’t see computers having a role in matters that require subjective legal judgment. “Assessment and critique of justice and justice mechanisms, I don’t see AI taking that on. Nor do I see AI taking on ethics,” she said. “I don’t mean to suggest there is no relation between AI and ethical suggestions, but I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the human being. There will always be a need for human beings.”

Robot-lawyer-at-deskDean Minnow's points of optimism--that matters of justice and ethics will require a human component--seem substantially correct, but they highlight a particular problem in the contract and commercial law fields. Matters of human justice, like the administration of criminal penalties and the protection of civil rights, are a natural bulwark against the replacement of lawyers by computers in those fields. The values at stake are ones that we, as a society, would be (fortunately) fundamentally queasy about taking out of human hands. But what if the stakes are "mere" money, as is frequently the case with contracts?  That is the kind of area where increased efficiencies and removal of the human element give less pause.

This sort of automation of transactional work is certainly underway, ranging from the drafting of basic transactional documents through websites like Legal Zoom to the intriguing use of smart contracts that can govern and enforce themselves, such as through application of Bitcoin-style blockchain technology. In short, teachers of Contracts are training students in a field with a high degree of risk of being automated out of existence.

Robolawyer is coming, so how do we prepare our Contracts students to become lawyers whose value-adding proposition is not susceptible to automation?  This question has many answers, I suspect, but we won't reach any of them unless we start by recognizing the problem.

January 19, 2016 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Law Schools, Teaching, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Very, Very Frequent Flyers Do Not Have Separate Contracts with Airlines

If a customer belongs to an airline’s frequent flyer program, but flies so often that one obtains an elevated status under that program, is the customer then also by implication governed by a separate contract with the airline and not just the “basic” version of the frequent flyer rules?

No, according to a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in Hammarquist v. United Continental Holdings, Inc. (Nos. 15-1836 and 15-1845).

In the class action lawsuit against beleaguered United Airlines, plaintiffs were members of the airline’s “MileagePlus” program. Condition no. 1 of the program rules stated that the airline had the “right to change the Program Rules, regulations, benefits, conditions of participation or mileage levels … at any time, with or without notice ….” Plaintiffs, who had obtained “Premier” status argued that under the Premier Program, an alternative modification provision prohibited United from changing the benefits that had already been earned, but which could, per airline tradition and the basic program rules, only be enjoyed the following year. The court made short shrift of that: The plaintiffs did not dispute that the parties’ contractual relationship was governed by the Program Rules that, under precedent established in Lagen v. United Continental Holdings, the elevated status of some frequent flyers does not result in a free-standing contracts separate from the underlying frequent flyer program being established. United Airlines had not made any contractual representations that would render it unable to change the benefits under the basic contract.

Plaintiffs also argued that at the most, United Airlines should only be allowed to change the benefits once a year and not, as had apparently been the case, in the
middle of the year. Plaintiffs relied on the airline’s website, which had stated th That changes were possible “from year to year,” but also that “unless otherwise stated,” the basic Program Rules applied to the Premier Program. That, according to the plaintiffs, meant that the airline could not change the benefits “at any time” as had been stated in the frequent flyer rules. The court found that United Airlines had never “stated” that Condition no. 1 did not also apply to its very frequent flyers, and that the airline had never contractually promised that changes could only be implemented only from year to year.

Nice try, but in this case, a contractually fair enough outcome, it seems. United Airlines “cannot be liable for breaching a contract that it did not make.”

January 15, 2016 in Current Affairs, Miscellaneous, Recent Cases, Travel, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Tenured Political Science Professor Fired for Statements about God

Recently, Stacey blogged here about whether tenure is a contract. Yesterday, the news broke that a tenured associate political science professor at Wheaton College, a private Christian university, may soon get to test that theory.

Shortly after the San Bernadino, California, shooting massacre, Professor Larycia Hawkins stated on her Facebook account (which listed her profession and employer) that she “stand[s] in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God." She elaborated that “we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind--a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.” She also wore a hijab in “embodied solidarity” with Muslim women.

The response by the College is, for now, the equivalent of “You’re fired.” The College placed Professor Hawkins on administrative leave in December "to explore significant questions regarding the theological implications of her recent public statements, including but not limited to those indicating the relationship of Christianity to Islam."  Further, "Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution's faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity. As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college's evangelical Statement of Faith." According to Wheaton College President Ryken, however, the College also “support[s] the protection of all Americans including the right to the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States." Professor Hawkins’ legal team is, according to televised news statements on 1/6, exploring the possibility of a lawsuit should the professor’s preferred solution – mediation and an amicable solution – turn out to be impossible.

This case raises serious questions about the academic freedom of tenured professors – even untenured ones - with which we as law professors are also very familiar. This is perhaps even more so in the cases of private colleges. It seems to me that with a message along the lines of what even Pope Francis uttered along with a reasoned (meta)physical explanation of her views and the College’s self-professed acceptance of freedom of religion, Professor Hawkins did not act in a way that should, under notions of academic freedom, get her fired. If we as law professors do not agree with or wish to challenge certain traditional or even untraditional legal views, are we not allowed to do so because the institutions we work for or the majority of our colleagues hold another view? One would hope so. Most of us can probably agree that academic freedom is exactly all about being able to, within reason at least, provoke deeper thought in relation to what we teach. Note that Dr. Hawkins did not teach religious studies, but political science. With the current embittered debate about Muslims and terrorism around the world, Dr. Hawkins arguably raised some interesting points even if one does not agree with her statements from a Christian point of view.

Stay tuned for more news on this case!

January 7, 2016 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Famous Cases, In the News, Law Schools, Religion, Teaching, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Legal Rights to Give up Your Travel Tickets

Exactly one year ago, I blogged here about United Airlines and Orbitz suing a 22-year old creator of a website that lets travelers find the cheapest airfare possible between two desired cities. Travelers would buy tickets to a cheaper end destination, but get off at stopover point to which a ticket would have been more expensive. For example, if you want to travel from New York to Chicago, it may be cheaper to buy one-way airfare all the way to San Francisco, not check any luggage, and simply get off in Chicago.

The problem with that, according to the airline industry: that is “unfair competition” and “deceptive behavior.” (Yes, the _airline industry_ truly alleged that.) Additionally, the plaintiffs claimed that the website promoted “strictly prohibited” travel; a breach of contracts cause of action under the airlines’ contract of carriage.

It seems that the United Airlines attorneys may not have remembered their 1L Contracts course well enough, for a contracts cause of action must, of course, be between the parties themselves or intended third party beneficiaries. The website in question was simply a third party with only incidental effects and benefits under the circumstances. Without more, such a party cannot be sued under contract law. (This may also be a free speech issue.)

Orbitz has since settled the suit.  Recently, a federal lawsuit was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction over the now 23-year old website inventor. United Airlines has not indicated whether it plans further legal action.  

Along these lines, cruise ship passengers are similarly not allowed to get off a cruise ship in a domestic port if embarking in another domestic port unless the cruise ship is built in the United States and owned by U.S. citizens. This is because the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1866 – enacted to support American shipping – requires passengers sailing exclusively between U.S. ports to travel in ships built in this country and owned by American owners. Thus, cruise ships traveling from, for example, San Diego to Alaska and back will often stop in Canada in order not to break the law. But if the vessel also stops in, for example, San Francisco and you want to get off, you will be subject to a $300 fine which, under cruise ship contracts of carriages, will be passed on to the passenger. See 19 CFR 4.80A and a government handbook here.

Convoluted, right? Indeed. Necessary? In this day and age: not in my opinion. As I wrote in my initial blogs on the issue, if one has a contract for a given product or service, pays it in full, and does not do anything that will harm the seller’s business situation, there should be no contractual or regulatory prohibitions against simply deciding not to actually consume the product or use the service one has bought. Again: if you buy a loaf of bread, there is also nothing that says that you actually have to eat it. You don’t have to sit and watch all sorts of TV channels simply because you bought the channel line-up. In my opinion, United Airlines and Orbitz were trying to hinder healthy competition and understandable consumer conduct. What is still rather incomprehensible to me in this context is why in the world airlines would have anything against passengers getting off at a midway point. It’s less work for them to perform and it gives them a chance to, if they allowed the conduct openly, resell the same seat twice. A win-win-win situation, it seems, for the original passenger, the airline, and the passenger that might want to buy the second leg at a potentially later point in time at whatever price then would be applicable. The same goes for the typically unaffordable “change fees” applied by most airlines: if they charged less (a change can very easily be done by travelers on a website with no airline interaction) and the consumer was willing to pay the then-applicable rate for the new date (prices typically go up, not down, as the departure dates approach), the airlines might actually benefit from being able to sell the given-up seat. Of course, they don’t see it that way… yet.

In many ways, traveling in this country seems to be going full circle in that it is becoming an expensive luxury. Thankfully, new low-cost airlines also appear on the market to provide much needed competition in this close-knit industry that, in the United States, seems to be able to carefully skirt around anti-trust rules without too many legal allegations of wrongdoing. (See here for allegations against United, American, Delta and Southwest Airlines for controlling capacity in order to keep airline prices up).

Happy New Year and safe travels!

January 3, 2016 in Commentary, Current Affairs, E-commerce, Famous Cases, In the News, Legislation, Recent Cases, Travel, True Contracts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Selling “Restorative Justice” for a Profit

Shoplifting is a major problem to retailers. In 2014, for example, retailers lost $44 billion nationwide to theft by shoplifters, employees and vendors. But how about this for an apparently very popular “solution”: Retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, Wal-Mart, Burlington Coat Factory, DSW Inc. and even Goodwill Industries have signed up with CEC, a company that provides “restorative justice” for profit.

Here’s how it works: Retailers sign a contract with CEC under which CEC will provide “life skills” courses to shoplifters caught by the retailers. The retailers pay nothing for this “service.” Rather, shoplifters must pay the company $500 for a six-hour course and sign a confession. If they refuse to do so, they are threatened with criminal prosecution and allegedly intimidated in several other ways. According to CEC, “over 1 million individuals have gone through the core program.” Do the math (if you trust the company’s statement) and you’ll see that contracting to sell justice and self-help is apparently quite lucrative.

According to CEC, this is all a good thing. In a statement apparently now removed from the company’s website, but reported here, the company purports to give “low-level, first-time shoplifters a valuable opportunity to learn how to make better choices, while saving them a criminal record and sparing law enforcement resources.” According to CEC now [http://www.correctiveeducation.com/home/cec-restore]: “CEC’s Adult Educational Program focuses on developing practical skills that will help achieve social goals. The dual approach of addressing behavior while promoting provident living helps reinforce change.”

What’s the problem with this alleged win-win situation? According to at least the San Francisco city attorney, the conduct is a violation of the California Business and Professions Code. It also alleged to amount to extortion, false imprisonment, coercion and deception. The city attorney has filed suit. CEC defends, claiming that its “vision is to reinvent the way crimes are handled, starting with retail theft.” Indeed. Do we, however, trust companies to sell justice for us via private contracts? Comment below!

December 21, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Famous Cases, In the News, Legislation, Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Phone Companies Still Trying to Take Advantage of Callers

How does paying 18 cents a minute for a local phone call in 2015 sound to you – fair enough or a scam?  How about 23 cents a minute for a non-local call?  If you think that no one can possibly charge that much today or that no one in their right minds would pay it, think again (ok, at least the former).

In Orange County, California, jails, the average phone call costs just that.  In return for providing phone service in a county’s jail system, a telecommunications company typically guarantees the county a multi-million dollar “commission” as well as a percentage of the revenue.  For example, Alabama company Global Tel-Link guarantees a payment of $15 million or two-thirds of phone revenue, whichever is greater, to Los Angeles County.  To be able to pay such a high price, the phone companies of course pass the cost on to the end clients; the inmates in at least Southern California counties. Lacountyprisonphones

The inmates and their families have had enough.  They filed suit recently against Los Angeles and nearby counties alleging that the fee for inmate telephone calls are “grossly unfair and excessive” and amount to an illegal moneymaking scheme for local governments.

Before you ask yourself who is calling the kettle black, as I must admit I did when I first learned of this story, think of this: criminal recidivism is greatly reduced by family communication.  The Federal Communications Commission last month capped local call rates and trimmed the cap on interstate long-distance calls for this and other reasons.  Mothers with husbands in jail have paid several thousand dollars to telecommunications companies so that their children can talk to their fathers, undoubtedly a benefit to not only the families, but also society in the long run.

Of course, the inmates have few alternatives as cell phones are very typically not allowed in jail.

It continually amazes me how much Americans are willing or have to pay for phone service, Internet service, and cable TV service.  In the case of inmates, of course, they have little choice.  To avoid paying large monthly fees for cell phone service, I have kept my “dumb phone,” but instead find myself annoyed at still, in 2015, not being able to get more selective cable TV for only those stations I truly watch (the news, if you can call it that these days).  Monopolies or not: communications companies still typically have the upper hand in contractual bargaining situations.

December 16, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Government Contracting, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 14, 2015

DirectTV v. Imburgia - FAA Preemption Über Alles

On DeceDarth vader thumbs-upmber 14, the United States Supreme Court decided DirecTV v. Imburgia, the latest chapter in an expansion of the Federal Arbitration Act to pre-empt state law well beyond anything Congress in the 1920s could plausibly have imagined. Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of the Court's FAA jurisprudence.

The Court once again purports to place arbitration agreements "on equal footing with all other contracts," while at the same time giving arbitration clauses a force that even a Sith would have to admire.  Don't underestimate the power of arbitration clauses over all other terms in a contract.  Professor Imre Stephen Szalai (Loyola - New Orleans) may have said it best in an e-mail that made the rounds on ADR, CivPro, and Contracts Prof listervs and that is especially appropriate for this blog:

"Nothing can stand in the way of FAA preemption, not even the parties' contract."

Many commentators will write many words about many aspects of the DirecTV case in the upcoming days and weeks, such as the eloquent dissent by Justice Ginsburg addressing economic imbalances of power in consumer contracts. I want to take a moment here, however, to praise the short and lonely dissent by Justice Thomas, espousing a view on which he has been unwaivering for more than two decades: "I remain of the view that the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply to proceedings in state courts."

While that solo dissent--and five dollars--will get you a café mocha at Starbucks, he has Congressional intent right.  A pre-Erie statute intended to overcome federal courts' traditional hostility to arbitration was never intended to become a federal preemption juggernaut capable of divesting states of huge swaths of jurisdiction over state contract law.

Federal Arbitration Act rant now complete. Thank you for listening.

 

 

 

December 14, 2015 in Current Affairs, Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Emperor’s New (Warm Weather) Clothes?

On Saturday, a new international treaty surplanting the expired Kyoto Protocol was finally reached by 195 nations. For business contracting and numerous, if not all, aspects of life now and in the future, the global climate will be key. 

The main aim of the agreement is to keep temperature rise “well below” 2° C.  The nations will additionally “pursue efforts” to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° C. Thousands of scientists have for a long time reiterated the belief that temperatures rising above 2° Celsius could be devastating, so the aspirational goal of 1.5° C is, of course, a positive sign that national leaders may finally be realizing the dire straits of the planet’s climate situation.

So, this is good news, right? To some extent, yes. “The Paris Agreement for the first time brings all nations into a common ClimateChangecause based on their historic, current and future responsibilities.” However, current national commitments still do not go far enough. As they currently stand, we are headed towards a warming of more than 3° C; much higher than the scientifically advisable goal. The national pledges must be increased over time.  Starting in 2018, each country will have to submit new plans every five years to reach the 1.5/2° goal by 2100. The thought is that even though current coals do not suffice to keep climate warming to the agreed-upon limits, they will over time, starting soon.

History shows, though, that many nations have so far neither been ready nor politically able to make effective greenhouse gas reduction commitments. Previous aspirational goals have not been realized by the great majority of nations, although some not only met, but exceeded their commitments. It’s tempting to note that “time will tell if the situation changes this time,” but we simply don’t have much time to turn around the problem before it is too late for many regions, species and peoples around the world. For example, a temperature increase of 2° C will still be very problematic for low-lying nations such as many small island states, who seem to have been almost entirely forgotten about by many in this context. That, however, was considered one of the “prices” to be paid for reaching the deal. (A true contractual-like bargaining strategy.) Human rights are only mentioned in the preamble to the Agreement and not in the Agreement itself.

Nation themselves will determine their “intended nationally determined contributions,” which are not directly legally binding under notions of hard law as they are not mandatory with top-down enforcement if the nations fail to do so.  Among other factors, the word "contribution" and not, for example, "commitments" demonstrate the legal cautiousness of the agreement.  Nations must, of course, still strive to reach their goals under the UNFCCC and the notion of pacta sunt servanda, but these are not worded in a manner that gives them a firm, legally binding effect. The only directly legally binding parts of the Agreement are some procedural aspects such as the review procedures.

Of course, the reason why the Agreement was adopted by so many parties was precisely that no legal requirements were imposed on nations. Some, such as the United States, would not have accepted this. A senior Obama administration official notes that the Agreement "does not require submission to the Senate because of the way it is structured and because the pieces that are binding are already part of existing agreements.” A legally smart and pragmatic maneuver. But it still remains to be seen whether the United States and other nations act – and act quickly enough - to prevent the problem escalating in spite of good intentions.  I may be one of the few in this context, but I’m still skeptical. The intended time frames still seem too long to me and the actual promised action too meager. I fear that these are simply the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” celebrated so much, perhaps, because of so many years of no action.

Nonetheless, it is certainly remarkable and a very good sign that the world community finally agreed on the dangers posed by climate change and thus a 2° C limit.  That's a good start.  In the words of Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union’s commissioner for energy and climate action, “[t]oday, we celebrate, [t]omorrow, we have to act. This is what the world expects of us.” But if we have simply turned a corner back to where we came from, namely hoping that sufficient action will be taken soon and pointing out that the world expects that, we might have celebrated a bit too early. I hope I am wrong. Climate change is like a cancer: horrible, always inconvenient, and tough to deal with at many levels. But the longer one waits in tackling it, the worse it will get.

December 14, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, In the News, Legislation, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Five Flavors of Legal Services

Will the legal hiring and general business situation never change for the better? Maybe, but commentators still think that future change on the legal market will come from structural and innovative, rather than cyclical, change. For example, in addition to relatively simple steps such as hiring outside staffing agencies and sharing office centers, some firms are launching their own subsidiaries providing legally related services such as contract, data and cyber security management along with ediscovery.

Until recently, law firms offered these and other services. As outside service providers have proved to be able to provide certain key services more efficiently and cost effectively than traditional law firms, the latter have lost business that they are now desperately trying to recoup.

Imitation is still the most sincere form of flattery. It is not only on the market for legal services that copycats abound; this has also proved to be the case with, for example, many shared economy service websites such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, VRBO and others. As soon as one company idea and website turns out to be successful, others just like it seem to shoot up within weeks or months.  However, instead of simply trying to do what others are already doing and doing well, it would be nice if companies – law firms among them – would try to think about how they could do things better instead of just trying to, as often seems the case, (re)gain business by taking market shares from others. Exactly how law firms should do so is, of course, the million-dollar question, but it seems clear that innovation is prized both within and beyond the legal field. That will benefit our students if jobs are created by actual law firms rather than by service providers not hiring people with JDs.

December 10, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, E-commerce, Labor Contracts, Miscellaneous, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Out with the Smart Aleck Professors, In with the Party Loyalists

A few days ago, I blogged here on an attempt by some university professors in California to unionize and to obtain better pay and working conditions in general.

In China, university reform is also underway, but, at least in part, with a much more troublesome intent and potentially dire effects for the nation and the world.

The Guardian reports that China’s education minister has vowed to “drive smart alecks, dissenters and thieves” from the country’s university classrooms. This is part of a wider anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi three years ago.

The alleged misconduct ranges from action that seems reasonable (firing university leaders for filing fake expense reports and taking bribes from students) across the pitiful and almost laughable (punishing senior university officials for engaging in illicit acts of “hedonism” by, for example, driving luxury cars) to the outright shocking and extremely troublesome, seen with Western eyes. For example, several university chiefs have been toppled for “flouting Communist party rules.” Attempts are made to ban books that attempt to spread “Western values.” The education minister has also called for “greater political screening of academics before they are hired” and is worried that “enemy forces” are attempting to “infiltrate university campuses” in order to “turn young minds against the party.”

Liberal academics claim that the discussion and study of sensitive topics has generally become increasingly difficult under the leadership of President Xi.

All this is indeed very troublesome indeed. However, before we roll our eyes too much at these serious Chinese events, let us just remember that the United States academic world is far from perfect either. Recall, for example, the recent defunding of various law school and other university clinics on East Coast campuses for, at bottom, being too liberal and assisting the lower class in obtaining better pay and working conditions. A former senior faculty colleague personally told me once that one of my papers on (are you ready?) climate change was almost “too political” in Orange County, California. The article discussed mainstream factual aspects, including business and investment issues, of climate change that are now, just a few years later, being discussed in Paris by all media, including conservative outlets. Recently, numerous attempts at diversifying college campuses across the nation have shed light on potential elitism and racism in American universities. Nope, we are far from perfect ourselves. But when an entire nation deliberately and officially seeks to censor learning processes, there is indeed cause for alarm.

Last year, I had the great honor, joy and privilege of teaching international environmental law at a prime Chinese university. I brought up such “sensitive” topics as public participation in government law- and decision-making, climate change, and trade in endangered species. I was videotaped doing so (this is normal practice in China). I was also not invited back this past summer. Maybe my teaching is simply no good. Maybe more senior and “famous” lecturers were chosen.   I cannot blame the university for doing so at all. I know that I have a lot with which I can contribute to any educational institution, but I also bow to and honor the many experienced, learned and very well published colleagues on the “market” these days. However, hate to think that I was, perhaps, censored away. I don’t think that is the case. If it was, then I am nonetheless happy to have at least contributed with a few provocative, Western thoughts. Perhaps I was just too much of a smart aleck...

 

December 8, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Labor Contracts, Law Schools, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Settlement Targeted Toward Banks?

 

Target_Data_Breach_GraphicCommercial class-action practitioner Kevin M. McGinty here describes the final settlement of the infamous 2013 theft of credit and debit card data from retail giant Target's point-of sale terminals:

On Tuesday, December 1, Target entered into a settlement agreement with a class of banks and financial institutions that issued the credit and debit cards that were compromised in the 2013 event.  The settlement was the result of negotiations following closely on the heels of an order by the court certifying a card issuer class.  This last settlement resolves card issuers’ claims that were not previously resolved in Target's August 2015 settlement with Visa, which provided $67 million to resolve claims made by Visa card issuing banks under Visa’s fraud resolution process.  Also separate from this settlement is the $10 million settlement of the claims of consumers whose cards were compromised by the data theft, which Target concluded with the consumer class in March 2015.

The current settlement provides for payment of an additional $39,357,939.38 for the benefit of class member banks.  Of that amount, $19,107,939.38 will be used to fund settlements under MasterCard’s fraud resolution process....

Target-data-breach-sadThe $10 million paid in the consumer settlement may seem at first blush to be grossly disproportionate to the roughly $107 million allocated to the card networks and their issuing banks. It actually isn't. The card payment system is built on private contracts that are themselves heavily impacted by federal consumer protection laws like the Truth-in-Lending Act and the Electronic-Funds-Transfer Act. Together, the contracts and federal law place liability for unauthorized purchases squarely on the issuer banks acting through the card networks.  Thus, we should expect the consumer losses from Target's data breach to be minimal compared to those borne by the banks, who were obligated to fund the consumer losses pending recovery from Target as the ultimately responsible party for this particular data breach.

Sometimes the legal system works more-or-less how it is intended. The consumers actually were protected in this instance.

December 7, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, E-commerce, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Unionizing University Faculty

Five thousand part-time and non-tenure track professors working for the University of Southern California, a private university employing a total of 6,600 faculty, are petitioning the National Labor Relations Board to become unionized. If the petition is granted, the faculty will get a chance to vote on the issue with contract negotiations to follow soon thereafter.

Those of the faculty who support the move say that it could lead to better working conditions, more job stability and higher pay. Currently, part-time faculty teaching courses for USC earn an average of about $5,000 per course. Such faculty often have to piece together jobs teaching classes for several universities earning them the name “freeway flyers.” Parents are often getting upset that students are being taught by part-time adjuncts. Of course, the stress and uncertainty of not having a stable teaching job in one location may indeed affect the quality of the instruction provided by adjuncts and other non-tenured professors.

Nonetheless, USC Provost Michael Quick and other university representatives have warned the potentially unionizing faculty that their move may lead to “less collegiality on campus” because unions, in their opinion, rest on “an adversarial model.” 

Come again? So, some university folks may resent the fact that their low-paid, low-security, but hardworking colleagues for seeking out better working conditions for themselves and thus eventually the university students? That in itself sounds highly uncollegial and should be rethought. Perhaps some university faculty and leaders ought to consider assisting their colleagues in moving towards better working conditions and pay, as the trend is around the nation in both academia and beyond, not trying to retaining status quo. Unions have a sound role to play in this respect. Even without unions, many of us enjoy good working conditions and pay. However, many faculty may not individually be able to obtain such conditions. Unions have demonstrated their ability to assist workers in this respect. “Adversarial” is not the right word for that. It’s called bargaining power and leverage. It is what you make it.

As if this wasn’t insulting enough to the faculty, the university provost also encouraged the faculty to “read anything an organizer asks to you sign as you would read a legal document.” Duh! As one faculty said: “I almost feel like they’re insulting my intelligence.” Apparently, the intelligence of the faculty is recognized in some contexts (teaching), but not in others (reaching out for help to improve one’s working conditions).

By way of comparison: part-time and untenured faculty at both the University of California and California State University have long been represented by unions. That has not led to any reports of “less collegiality” or any other of the parade of horribles-scenarios so often invoked when it comes to employee versus employer bargains assisted by unions.

December 5, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Labor Contracts, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

What's in YOUR Wallet? (Maybe not an EMV-chip card...)

CapOne Viking TV

While checks have long been governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, credit and debit cards are primarily creatures of private contract. Some of the most important contracts controlling card-based payment systems are ones to which you, as a mere end user, are not a party. Both consumers who use cards and merchants who accept them generally do so through their banks. These banks, in turn, are contracting members of credit card networks, like MasterCard and Visa. Most of us will never actually see these bank-to-network contracts, but they are hugely important for allocating liability among the parties handing a payment card transaction.

On October 1, 2015, these network agreements underwent a major change known as the "EMV Liability Shift." In general terms, this meant the liability for unauthorized was allocated to incentivize the adoption of EMV-chip cards that would ultimately replace the outdated magnetic-stripe cards long popular in the United States.  "EMV," if you are wondering, stands for "EuroPay, MasterCard, Visa," who were the three original adopters of the standard, but all major cards are onboard with EMV today.

I knew that the October 1 shift was coming and that it was a big deal to players in the payment-card industry. This is why I was greatly surprised that, as of October 1, I had received precisely ONE card containing an EMV chip, and that was for the travel credit-card issued to me by my university employer. I to this day have heard nary a peep from my personal card-issuer banks, when I thought they would be tripping over themselves to give me a chip-enabled replacement card. Many point-of-sale card terminals now have a slot in which to insert an EMV card, albeit still retaining the traditional mag-stripe swipe capability. But my cards are still chipless.  How can this be, when the EMV Liability Shift was clearly going to be a big deal?

I may have found the answer to this mystery in this short piece by practicing attorney Christopher H. Roede, who described the liability shift with an important detail (underlined) that I had somehow missed until now:

Under these new credit card network rules, the liability for certain types of unauthorized or fraudulent credit card transactions shifted from the issuing bank and the credit card networks to the party that adopted the lowest level of EMV compliant technology. If, for example, a bank issued a cardholder an EMV compliant card, the merchant had not installed EMV compliant card readers, and an unauthorized transaction occurred at the merchant's location by use of a counterfeit card, the merchant (and not the issuing bank) is liable for the fraud.

To me, that explains a great deal about the card-issuing banks' non-urgency to move customers over to EMV-chip cards. They just aren't worried enough about the cost of having non-compliant technology to issue new cards in an expedited manner.  While EMV will improve the card-issuer's position as against non-adopting merchants, failure to adopt is not putting them in any worse position than they were in before October 1.  Under the Truth-in-Lending Act and Regulation Z [12 C.F.R. §1026(b)(1)], the issuer banks were already liable for most unauthorized use of consumer credit cards. My employer-issued card is not subject to TILA as it isn't a consumer credit card, so my university had significant incentive to make sure that its bank upgraded all employee credit cards were replaced before October 1.  And that is exactly what happened.

Consumers, I suppose, will get chip-based credit cards when the issuer banks feel like getting around to it. It's apparently not THAT urgent for them.

December 5, 2015 in Current Affairs, E-commerce, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The (Il-)Legality of Workplace Bullying and Discrimination

In cases where workers have quit their jobs because of intolerable workplace bullying and thus wish to assert illegal discrimination, the United States Supreme Court seems inclined to start the statute of limitations “clock” when the employee resigns rather than when the last discriminatory action takes place. Private sector workers typically have 180 days to report job discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) whereas public sector employees must do so within 45 days.

The case is Green v. Brennan, No. 14-613.  In it, a postal worker claims that he was passed over for a promotion because he is black. When he complained to his employer, the United States Postal Service, he was allegedly forced to choose between retirement or a lower-paying job 300 miles away. He resigned and filed suit for constructive discharge, but missed the EEOC deadline. The trial and appellate courts disagreed as to when the statute of limitations should start to run, which would have made a difference in the case.

As the law currently stands, employees only enjoy legal protection against discrimination based on a relatively narrow range of underlying issues such as age, gender, national origin, race, religion or disability under, most relevantly, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But luckily, times are changing. Although employees in this country enjoy notoriously few of the rights and work norms that are taken for granted in so many other parts of the industrialized world, some states are doing something to change this situation, at long last. In California, for example, AB 2053 now requires California employers with 50 or more employees to include training in the prevention of “abusive conduct” to already existing requirements regarding sexual harassment. 

“Abusive conduct” is that which a “reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.” “It may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse … that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.” The conduct must be undertaken with malice. In other words, AB 2053 targets a wide range of workplace bullying that is not linked to “traditional” discrimination. Such conduct is surprisingly common and accepted by management to a surprisingly great extent in more places than you might think and in places that may or may not surprise you, including our very own field, legal academia.

Unfortunately, AB 2053 does not yet have sufficient legal “teeth” as defining “malice” and the bullying targeted by the law is difficult. Thus, in spite of the extent of the problem and its many recognized and severe consequences on both employers’ productivity and success levels as well as, of course, the employees’ varied interests, if an employee thinks she or he has an issue with his or her employer, the “resolution is likely [to come from] human resources, and not the courts.” 

What happens if a human resources department is disinterested in or for other reasons - corporate acceptance of workplace bullying, perhaps - unwilling to assist the employee? Perhaps not much, as the situation stands. But just as the Civil Rights movement started some place and built up at least some protections against some types of discrimination, modern notions of what constitutes workplace discrimination and its negative effects are, luckily, spreading. In spite of the usual initial criticism, AB2053 is a very good start. Undoubtedly, the common law will be able to shed further light on what modernly constitutes acceptable workplace behavior and what does not. That way, the law can get the required legal “teeth.” In the meantime, it is a sad observation about the modern American workplace that so many managers effectively tolerate or even undertake workplace harassment and that so few counterbalancing institutions in place in other cultures exist here, for instance trade unions. In contracts law, it’s all about the bargaining power. Most American workers have too little in today’s workplace.

December 1, 2015 in Commentary, Current Affairs, Labor Contracts, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Consent Agreement on Embryo Destruction a Legally Binding Contract

A California Superior Court Judge has ruled that a consent agreement between spouses about what to do with frozen embryos in case of divorce has the effect of a legally binding contract. This was the first such ruling in California. The case is In re the Marriage of Stephen E. Findley and Mimi C. Lee.

Shortly before Dr. Lee and Mr. Findley were married in 2010, Dr. Lee discovered that she had cancer. The couple decided to create and store embryos to preserve their chances of having a child. Shortly after the marriage, the couple signed a consent decree stating that the embryos were to be destroyed if the couple divorced. They marriage went downhill and ended in an acrimonious divorce in 2015.

Dr. Lee, however, argued for her right to keep the embryos. She argued that because of her age – she is 46 – the embryos are her only chance of having a child on her own. She testified that she considered the fertility clinic agreement a mere consent form and that she thought she could change her mind about it later on.

Judge Anne-Christine Massullo found that a consent agreement is a legally binding contract. It must be upheld in order to render certainty to IVF clinics and individuals who undergo IVT treatment regarding their dispositional choices before embryos are created. Said the judge about holding IVT agreements to be mere contracts: “It is a disturbing consequence of modern biological technology that the fate of … embryos … must be determined in a court by reference to cold legal principles.” That may be a valid concern, but equally important is, undoubtedly, the rights and concerns of both marital parties.

Consider this as well: Dr. Lee had offered her ex-husband to waive child support if he would let her use the embryos. However, such a promise is meaningless in California where such an agreement cannot be enforced. In contrast, Mr. Findley testified that Dr. Lee had once asked him “how much money the embryos were worth to him” and indicated that she could turn a possible child against him in the future. The court found “well founded” Mr. Findley’s belief that Lee would use any child born of the embryos as a money extortion device. Said the judge: “Mr. Findley should be free from court compelled fatherhood and the uncertainties it would bring.”

In this case, these included potential extortion by a highly educated woman – an anesthesiologist - who seems able consider her potential children to be not only objects of affection, but also vehicles for a monetary reward. Mr. Findley testified that he would like to have children some day, just not with Dr. Lee. Wise decision, it seems, and one that the court equally wisely supported, even though it had to resort to “cold legal principles.”

11/21/2015

Consent Agreement on Embryo Destruction a Legally Binding Contract

A California Superior Court Judge has ruled that a consent agreement between spouses about what to do with frozen embryos in case of divorce has the effect of a legally binding contract. This was the first such ruling in California. The case is In re the Marriage of Stephen E. Findley and Mimi C. Lee, Case No. FDI-13-780539, http://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/FINDLEY_Statement_Of_Decision%20Rev_1.pdf

Shortly before Dr. Lee and Mr. Findley were married in 2010, Dr. Lee discovered that she had cancer. The couple decided to create and store embryos to preserve their chances of having a child. Shortly after the marriage, the couple signed a consent decree stating that the embryos were to be destroyed if the couple divorced. They marriage went downhill and ended in an acrimonious divorce in 2015.

Dr. Lee, however, argued for her right to keep the embryos. She argued that because of her age – she is 46 – the embryos are her only chance of having a child on her own. She testified that she considered the fertility clinic agreement a mere consent form and that she thought she could change her mind about it later on.

Judge Anne-Christine Massullo found that a consent agreement is a legally binding contract. It must be upheld in order to render certainty to IVF clinics and individuals who undergo IVT treatment regarding their dispositional choices before embryos are created. Said the judge about holding IVT agreements to be mere contracts: “It is a disturbing consequence of modern biological technology that the fate of … embryos … must be determined in a court by reference to cold legal principles.” That may be a valid concern, but equally important is, undoubtedly, the rights and concerns of both marital parties.

Consider this as well: Dr. Lee had offered her ex-husband to waive child support if he would let her use the embryos. However, such a promise is meaningless in California where such an agreement cannot be enforced. In contrast, Mr. Findley testified that Dr. Lee had once asked him “how much money the embryos were worth to him” and indicated that she could turn a possible child against him in the future. The court found “well founded” Mr. Findley’s belief that Lee would use any child born of the embryos as a money extortion device. Said the judge: “Mr. Findley should be free from court compelled fatherhood and the uncertainties it would bring.”

In this case, these included potential extortion by a highly educated woman – an anesthesiologist - who seems able consider her potential children to be not only objects of affection, but also vehicles for a monetary reward. Mr. Findley testified that he would like to have children some day, just not with Dr. Lee. Wise decision, it seems, and one that the court equally wisely supported, even though it had to resort to “cold legal principles.”

November 21, 2015 in Current Affairs, Science, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)