My last article, dated Jan. 25, visited the RICO pleadings requirement in light of the class action RICO lawsuit filed against Harvey Weinstein. The Weinstein RICO action is brought under the most popular section—Section 1962(c). In the article, I discussed the stringent requirements of pleading and proving civil RICO claims and outlined some of the obstacles for plaintiffs.
The complexity with RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), however, does not end there. Almost all RICO lawsuits filed are brought under Section 1962(c) (note: violation under Section 1962(d) relating to conspiracy to violate a substantive section is routinely asserted whenever there is a violation of a substantive section). But, what about Sections (a) and (b)? Why are these sections rarely used? Is it because these sections are generally inapplicable? While the specificity of Sections 1962(a) and (b) compared to the breadth of Section 1962(c) is a reason these sections are not commonly used, it is also because they are more difficult to understand, and often misunderstood. In effect, these sections have become virtually forgotten. While many lawyers have an understanding—ranging from basic to advance—of Section (c), far fewer understand (a) and (b).
Pleading and Proving a RICO Violation Under Section 1962(a)— Investment of Income
Section 1962(a) is primarily concerned with money laundering activity. This section makes it unlawful for “any person who has received any income derived … from a pattern of racketeering activity … to use or invest … any part of such income … in acquisition of an interest in … any enterprise ….” Here, the RICO enterprise is the “prize” of the racketeers whereas the RICO enterprise is the “instrument” of the racketeers under Section 1962(c).
Section 1962(a) prohibits investing any income derived from a pattern of racketeering activity to acquire any interest in an enterprise. The section prohibits a person from using “dirty money,” for instance, to buy a membership interest in a legitimate business. As stated above, money laundering is typically the most common goal of the racketeers under this section. By investing dirty money into a legitimate business and, in turn, using the business to write checks to themselves (or affiliates), the racketeers complete the money laundering cycle.
On February 20, 2018 Kang Haggerty and Fetbroyt LLC published a memorandum on the New Municipal Land Use Law.
On January 15, 2018, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law Senate Bill No. 3233, effective immediately, which reforms requirements under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 et seq., also referred to as the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). The amendments under the MLUL modify the requirements for performance and maintenance guarantees required for developers. Under the new, more developer-friendly law, “the developer shall furnish a performance guarantee in favor of the municipality in an amount not to exceed 120% of the cost of installation of only those improvements required by an approval or developer’s agreement, ordinance, or regulation to be dedicated to a public entity, and that have not yet been installed.”
In the past, the municipality had expansive authority to require performance guarantees for improvements deemed “necessary or appropriate.” N.J.S.A. 40:55D-53. Additionally, the list of improvements subject to performance guarantees from developers (and in favor of the municipality) are now limited to the following: streets, pavement, gutters, curbs, sidewalks, street lighting, street trees, surveyor’s monuments, water mains, community septic systems, drainage structures, public improvements of open space, and any grading necessitated by the preceding improvements.
In the January 25, 2018 edition of The Legal Intelligencer, Edward Kang, Managing Member of KHF, writes on How RICO Plays a Role in the World of Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo.
Who in civil litigation does not love a good RICO claim? Its boundaries are seemingly endless, and in the case of Harvey Weinstein—perhaps one of the most vilified defendants on the planet right now—there is the possibility of catastrophic implications, as if being the face of an entire movement (#MeToo) is not bad enough.
Civil claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. Sections 1961-1968 (RICO Act), are highly desirable for plaintiffs and their attorneys because, if successful, they provide for treble damages, plus attorney fees and costs of litigation. Very few plaintiffs succeed on a RICO claim, however, so the decision to file one should not be made lightly. Many plaintiffs fail during the pleadings stage, and their claims are dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6). For defendants, like Weinstein, the possible implications of RICO can be disastrous. This potential implication is why defendants of civil RICO claims are eager to settle if the claim survives a motion to dismiss and shows a strong likelihood of surviving a motion for summary judgment. For example, in 2016, Trump University did just that—it settled a civil RICO suit for $25 million, which paled compared to its potential exposure of $170 million.
The RICO Act was passed in 1970 as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 to combat large organized crime operations led by the American Mafia and their growing infiltration of legitimate businesses and organizations. Although the RICO Act was drafted to bring down gangsters, it is certainly not limited to that purpose and has evolved into a mechanism to confront business fraud and corruption over the last half-century. This is evidenced by the recent high-profile civil RICO lawsuit filed against Harvey Weinstein.
In the January 5, 2018 edition of The Legal Intelligencer, Edward Kang, Managing Member of KHF, writes A Primer on International Chamber of Commerce Arbitration for Litigators.
Arbitration, whether compulsory or voluntary, is commonplace these days as a less expensive and more efficient resolution to litigation than trial. Litigators in Pennsylvania are familiar with the Court of Common Pleas Compulsory Arbitration Program for cases with an amount in controversy of $50,000 or less. For cases with a larger amount in controversy, parties will often agree to arbitrate with a company offering a private arbitrator, such as AAA, JAMS and ADR Options.
In cases involving international disputes, the arbitration venues commonly found in contract include, the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), Swiss Chamber’s Arbitration Institution (SCAI), Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), German Institution of Arbitration (DIS), Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC), Vienna International Arbitration Center (VIAC), International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and the International Court of Arbitration for the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
The number of international arbitrations has been increasing due largely to the growing number of courts in foreign countries recognizing and enforcing foreign arbitral awards. An ICC arbitral award, for instance, can now be enforced in China, where its courts refused to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against its citizens on many occasions. It is becoming increasingly likely for practitioners to face a dispute over a contract providing for arbitration before one of these international forums. This is true even with smaller cases involving an amount in controversy under $50,000.
In the November 9, 2017 edition of The Legal Intelligencer, Edward T. Kang, managing member of the firm, writes on limited partnerships and the rights afforded to the limited partners when the general partner deviates from its duty of care.
Limited partnerships offer an attractive option over the general partnership form–namely, the benefits of a partnership arrangement, but with limited liability like that enjoyed by the owners of a corporation or limited liability company. With that limited liability, however, also comes limited input into the management and operation of the company. The general partner(s) manage the company, while limited partners typically have no right to manage or otherwise direct the affairs of the partnership. That means, absent a specific agreement between the partners and the partnership, a limited partner is treated like a shareholder of a public corporation–that is, a limited partner’s right is limited to voting and distribution and must trust that the general partner will manage and operate the partnership in the best interest of the partnership.
But what rights do limited partners have, especially when the general partner deviates from its duty of care or duty of loyalty owed to the partnership? Does a limited partner have the right to bring a direct action against another partner or the partnership itself? In a corporation setting, typically, a corporate officer/director owes fiduciary duties not to shareholders/owners, but to the entity itself. And if a dispute occurs with officers or directors, a shareholder must usually file a derivative action on behalf of the company to address a breach of fiduciary duty by its officers and directors.
In Pennsylvania, traditionally, if lawyers or other professionals, such as accountants, performed their professional duties negligently, they could only be held liable to those with whom they were in direct contractual privity—in other words, their clients. Others who may have suffered damage because of that negligence—for example, a party to a transaction relying on the other party’s lawyer’s faulty opinion letter, or a bank relying on an opinion letter prepared by a borrower’s lawyer while extending credit to the borrower—would be without a claim in tort.
In much of the country, however, courts will extend the liability of professionals to cover nonclient third parties injured by the negligence of professionals in certain situations. This liability is typically found under a theory of negligent misrepresentation, adopted from Section 522 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Section 522(1) provides: “One who, in the course of his business, profession or employment, or in any other transaction in which he has a pecuniary interest, supplies false information for the guidance of others in their business transactions, is subject to liability for pecuniary loss caused to them by their justifiable reliance upon the information, if he fails to exercise reasonable care or competence in obtaining or communicating the information.”
The jury was thoroughly confused when a witness testified through an interpreter that he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a ladder in a construction case I tried a few years ago. What reasonable person would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a ladder? The “ladder,” however, was really a staircase—a distinction that was obviously important to the case. The delineation between interpreting and translating—in other words, between explaining the meaning and translating words verbatim—is vital when it comes to the use of interpreters during witness examinations.
The American legal system is wrought with a specialized lexicon and complexities that do not exist in the English language. Though an interpreter is not allowed to explain the legal procedure or give advice to a witness, they are your conduit to the witness and the mouthpiece of the witness for the judge or jury. An interpreter has the power, whether consciously or unknowingly, to skew the words of the witness as they choose your words. One question or answer, rephrased improperly, can completely change the outcome of a case.
What is a bulk sale clearance certificate, and how is a bulk sale clearance certificate related to a Pennsylvania real estate transaction? In Pennsylvania, a bulk sale clearance certificate must be obtained in all transactions involving the sale of fifty-one or more percent of the assets of a business, including real estate. Because it is common for property owners to create single purpose entities to own the real estate, bulk sale clearance certificates are required in many real estate transactions, since the real estate represents the sole asset (i.e., 100%) of the assets owned by such SPE. A bulk sale clearance certificate from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue verifies that a particular entity satisfied all tax obligations due to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including taxes, interest, penalties, fees, charges and any other liabilities up to and including the date of transfer.
Moreover, under 69 P.S. § 529, every corporation, joint-stock association, limited partnership or company organized under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or any other state that engages in business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which sells in bulk fifty-one percent or more of any stock of goods, wares or merchandise of any kind, fixtures, machinery, equipment, buildings, or real estate, shall give the Department of Revenue ten days’ notice of the sale, prior to the completion of the transfer of such property.
To provide proper notice and comport with Pennsylvania law, the seller must file form REV-181, the Application for Tax Clearance Certificate, with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry ten days before the closing of the sale. A copy of the agreement of sale and preliminary settlement statement should be included with the Application for Tax Clearance Certificate. (Note, however, that the Department of Revenue often requests re-submission post-closing so that all closing information and interim tax returns through the date of closing may be submitted). In addition, all such entities must file all state tax reports with the Department of Revenue to the date of the proposed closing on the transfer of property and pay all taxes and unemployment compensation contributions due to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through the date of closing. If all state tax reports have been filed and if all state taxes and unemployment compensation contributions are paid up to the date of the proposed transfer, the State issues a clearance certificate to the seller, which is then provided to the buyer.
On September 1, 2017, a federal court issued an order permitting a putative class action lawsuit against Craft Brew Alliance, the owner of the Kona Brewing Company beer brand, to move forward. The lawsuit, Broomfield v. Craft Brew Alliance, No. 17-cv-01027-BLF (N.D. Cal. Filed Feb. 28, 2017), alleges that Craft Brew Alliance engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices by packaging beer sold under the Kona Brewing Company name in a manner that led the plaintiffs to believe they were purchasing beer brewed in Hawaii, when in actuality, the beer was brewed in the continental United States. Broomfield v. Craft Brew Alliance, 2017 WL 383843 (N.D. Cal. 2017). Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the outer packaging of six and twelve packs of Kona beer, which includes Hawaiian imagery, the statement “Liquid Aloha,” a map of Hawaii with the location of the Kona brewery marked, the address of Kona’s Hawaii brewery, and the statement “visit our brewery and pubs whenever you are in Hawaii” can lead a reasonable consumer to believe that the beer was brewed in Hawaii. Id. at *1. While the address listed on the packaging is the address for Kona’s brewery, only the draft Kona beer sold in Hawaii is brewed there—all bottled and canned Kona beer is brewed in Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, and Tennessee. Id. The plaintiffs allege that they paid a premium for Kona beer believing it to be Hawaiian and brought claims for violations of California’s consumer protections laws, breach of warranties, fraud, and misrepresentation. Id. at *2.
Craft Beer Alliance filed a motion to dismiss the complaint arguing that the statements on the Kona packaging are at most “mere puffery” and that reasonable consumers cannot interpret the packaging to mean that the beer was brewed in Hawaii, as well as that the claims fail to state a sufficient claim upon which relief can be granted because the labels of the bottles and cans identify all five locations that Kona is brewed. Id. at *6. The court, however, found that the statements and imagery on the packaging, particularly the map of Hawaii identifying the Kona brewery, the Hawaii address of the brewery, and the invitation to visit the Hawaii brewery could possibly lead a reasonable consumer to believe that the beer was brewed in Hawaii. Id. at 7. The court also stated that the identification of all five breweries on the labels of the bottles and cans is insufficient to eliminate any potential confusion because consumers are not required to remove bottles and cans from their outer packaging to ascertain whether the representations on the packaging are misleading. Id. The court therefore denied Craft Beer Alliance’s motion to dismiss.
The court’s ruling differs from other recent rulings in lawsuits against the makers of Foster’s (Nelson v. MillerCoors, LLC, 2017 WL 1403343 (E.D.N.Y. 2017)), Red Stripe (Dumas v. Diageo PLC, 2016 WL 1367511 (S.D. Cal. 2016)), and Sapporo (Bowring v. Sapporo, 234 F.Supp.3d 386 (E.D.N.Y. 2017)), all of which dismissed similar putative class action claims because the labels identified that the beers were brewed in the United States, not in the foreign countries from which the plaintiffs contended they were lead to believe the beer was produced. The ruling, however, is not unprecedented. In Marty v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC, 43 F.Supp.3d 1333 (S.D. Fla. 2014), a class action claim against the maker of Becks, Anheuser Busch, for marketing that allegedly deceived the plaintiffs into believing Becks was brewed in Germany, not the United States, was permitted to proceed despite the labels stating that the beer was brewed in the United States. Anheuser Busch eventually settled the lawsuit for $20 million.