We Are Here For You

As we continue to work from home, we hope that all of you are doing well, and staying safe, healthy, and self-distanced (a reflexive verb that has entered the lexicon perhaps for as far as we can imagine).  For everyone, our work and world exist on email, phone, Skype, Zoom, and the like.  A Zoom birthday party held this week brought family together from North Carolina and New Jersey, with surprising success.  With courts largely closed for now, we anticipate in-person status conferences and motions moving from the courtroom, past the telephone, and on to Zoom and other videoconference platforms.  Depositions can work well via videoconference in many cases. Mediations, and even arbitrations, are transitioning to video, at least for the foreseeable future, in appropriate cases.  But trials, especially in personal injury cases, are another subject.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys will still want their juries in live courtroom settings . . . until the trial delays bring financial woes to their firms and their clients.  As we prepare for those trials, whenever they resume, we will keep you advised of courts’ changing rules and schedules, and of legal developments of interest.  Stay safe and healthy.

As always, we can be reached 24/7. Our phones will route your calls to John (press 2) or Peter (press 3) at any time, with immediate connection to our cell phones.

Our Courts Are Closed But We Will Be Working

The courts in New York and New Jersey have closed for hearings, conferences, and jury trials.  Our friends in Pennsylvania report many similar closings.  We even had a Philadelphia mediation postponed. Meetings of 50 or more are prohibited in New York and New Jersey, restaurants and bars are closed, and other non-essential businesses are encouraged to follow suit.  We will continue to work in the office unless ordered to stay home. We are fully able to work remotely without interruption.  Court filings in most of our courts are done electronically, and we receive orders and notifications from the courts in the same manner.  We will receive our emails, of course.  If we are out, or at night, our phones will route your calls to John (Press 2) or Peter (Press 3) at any time, with immediate connection to our cell phones.

We hope this will not last long.  Most important, we hope you all remain safe and healthy.

Federal Court Approves Transportation ADR Council’s Fairness and Procedures

The Transportation Lawyers Association has established and maintains the Transportation ADR Council, which provides arbitration and mediation services for parties involved in transportation-related disputes. The arbitrators and mediators on the Council are all members of the TLA, must have ten years or more legal experience in the transportation field, and must have extensive training in alternate dispute resolution procedures, including arbitration and mediation.

The U.S. District Court in Nashville, Tennessee, recently ruled that the Transportation ADR Council, or TAC, provides fairness consistent with due process, has procedural rules that guard against bias, and requires each arbitrator to “faithfully hear and examine the matter in controversy and make a just award.” In Byars v. Dart Transit Co., plaintiff brought an employment claim against Dart Transit. On Dart’s motion to compel arbitration before the TAC as prescribed in the parties’ agreement, Judge Waverly Crenshaw, Jr., analyzed the structure and procedural safeguards provided by the TAC’s arbitration rules, and ruled in favor of arbitration.

Plaintiff raised concern because all of the TAC arbitrators are transportation lawyers representing businesses in the transportation industry. That is of course a very wide realm. The Arbitration Rules prohibit any person who has a financial or personal interest in the outcome from serving as an arbitrator, and also give the parties the opportunity to question the arbitrators’ impartiality. Quoting the Sixth Circuit, Judge Ryan held that even if all TAC arbitrators had backgrounds in transportation employer defense work, “a party cannot avoid arbitration simply by alleging that the arbitration panel will be biased.”

The court ruled the parties’ agreement to arbitrate in Minnesota is enforceable under the Minnesota Uniform Arbitration Act, even though the Federal Arbitration Act may be inapplicable under the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in New Prime v. Oliveira. That case held that the FAA does not apply to disputes involving transportation workers’ contracts.

John Lane is a member of the TLA and currently serves as co-chair of the Transportation ADR Council, with Daniel Fulkerson, Esq., of Houston. Like most TAC arbitrators, John is also a commercial arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Independent Contractor v. Employee

NJ: Proposed Legislation

NJ State House

It was all but certain to pass. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was waiting to sign it. Television ads proclaimed its virtues. But the State’s anti-independent contractor bill (similar to California’s AB5) was pulled from the last legislative session. Groups representing independent contractors in myriad occupations made forceful and practical arguments against the bill. Included were freelance writers, musicians, doctors, various independent teachers, truckers, graphic designers, bakers, and others. Many legitimate independent contractor businesspeople prefer the freedom of owning and operating their own businesses. They do not want to be artificially classified as employees, a move they say would harm their businesses. The legislation was re-introduced on January 14th, and referred to the Labor Committees of both the Senate and Assembly. We are watching developments in both New Jersey and New York, which is also considering similar legislation.

CA: Preliminary Injunction Granted

Much to the relief of many, on January 16th, Judge Benitez granted a preliminary injunction to the California Trucking Association, temporarily stopping the enforcement of AB5 upon motor carriers. In his decision, Judge Benitez writes, “…there is little question that the State of California has encroached on Congress’ territory by eliminating motor carriers’ choice to use independent contractor drivers, a choice at the very heart of interstate trucking. In so doing, California disregards Congress’ intent to deregulate interstate trucking, instead adopting a law that produces the patchwork of state regulations Congress sought to prevent. With AB-5, California runs off the road and into the preemption ditch of the FAAAA.”

John Lane Reflects Upon a Great TIDA Annual Seminar Amid a Gathering of National Heroes

photo by Louise Lane

I recently attended the 27th Annual Seminar of the Trucking Industry Defense Association, in Tampa, Florida, gathering with wonderful friends from across the county. As a bonus, we shared our hotel with some of the most inspiring Americans – recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor at their annual meeting.

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Does Admiralty Law Permit Punitive Damages in a Seaman’s Injury Claim Based on Unseaworthiness?

The Supreme Court rules that it does not, in Dutra Group v. Batterton, decided on June 24, 2019.

“This case asks whether a mariner may recover punitive damages on a claim that he was injured as a result of the unseaworthy condition of the vessel.” With that introduction, Justice Alito began a fascinating history of maritime personal injury claims on behalf of merchant seamen. In maritime and admiralty cases, the federal courts sitting as courts of admiralty “proceed in the manner of a common law court,” as instructed by the Constitution. In Batterton, the Court exercised its jurisdiction to decide that punitive damages are not available in a mariner’s personal injury claim based upon unseaworthiness of the vessel.

Christopher Batterton worked as a deckhand on vessels owned by Dutra Group. His hand was injured when it was caught between a bulkhead and a hatch that blew off as a result of unventilated air accumulating and pressurizing with the compartment.

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John Lane Named Co-Chair of the Transportation ADR Council

John has been named co-chair of the Transportation ADR Council, an arm of the Transportation Lawyer’s Association, a nationwide organization of attorneys in corporate, government, and private practice in the field of transportation law. Together with the ADR Council’s other newly-named co-chair, Dan Fulkerson, Esq., of Houston, John will manage the arbitration/mediation apparatus for resolution of legal disputes arising in the transportation industry.

Recognizing the value of alternate dispute resolution and the benefit it would avail to members of the transportation industry, John along with several other TLA members, sought to create a body of rigorously-trained arbitrators and mediators who are experts in transportation law, and a system of arbitration procedures that accommodate the parties. Under the leadership of Steve Uthoff, Esq. and Eric Benton, Esq., they formed the Transportation ADR Council.

In addition to his role with the ADR Council, John is a member of the American Arbitration Association, the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators, the Garibaldi Inn of Court for Alternative Dispute Resolution, the Dispute Resolution Sections of the New Jersey and New York State Bar Associations, and has recently been accepted as an arbitrator for the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency, FINRA. John also serves as a mediator in the Superior Court of New Jersey.

Learn more about the TLA and the ADR Council at https://translaw.org.