The National Law Forum

The Blog of the The National Law Review
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Courts Must Restore Minimal Diversity to Restore Balance of Justice

Should federal court jurisdiction be expanded, and what effect would an expansion have on the judiciary? Alongside three legal experts, I discussed this question at a panel event hosted by the Federalist Society earlier in June. The discussion kicked off the National Association of Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action’s Restore Our Courts initiative and centered around the primary criticism of expanding diversity jurisdiction – the impact on federal court caseload.

In my latest study, “Estimating the Impact of a Minimal Diversity Standard on Federal Court Caseloads,” I found that these concerns are largely unfounded. Empirical analysis of almost 3,600 complaints filed in state court shows that replacing complete diversity with a minimal diversity standard would increase existing federal district court caseloads by an estimated 7.7 percent. This translates to an additional 43 cases per year for each judgeship – an inconsequential amount, with great potential to restore the balance in the United States judicial system.

As the Founding Fathers intended, diversity jurisdiction protects out-of-state residents from potentially biased state courts. It is meant to ensure that commercial cases would be heard in an impartial forum to protect foreign litigants from local bias. The traditional diversity statute has been interpreted by the courts to require “complete diversity,” where there cannot exist a common state citizenship between any plaintiff and any defendant. But Article III of the U.S Constitution only requires a “minimal diversity” standard for federal diversity jurisdiction, where at least one plaintiff and one defendant must be diverse in state citizenship.

State courts operating under a complete diversity standard open the door to harmful bias and costly lawsuits. Empirical evidence indicates that, compared to federal judges, many state judges tend to favor in-state plaintiffs over out-of-state defendants. This could be due to the intensifying politicization of state courts and state judicial elections where state court judges rely on voters for reelection and thus conform to the preferences of in-state litigants who are also voters.

Countless examples exist of overt bias in state courts, with state judges favoring local litigants and plaintiffs’ attorneys over out-of-state corporate defendants. State courts in Madison County, Illinois have been accused of favoring plaintiffs’ lawyers over out-of-state corporations in asbestos litigation. In fact, approximately one-third of all asbestos injury suits in the United States are brought in this single rural county.

It is clear that biases against out-of-state and corporate litigants continue to thrive today. Returning to the minimal diversity standard required by the Constitution would extend protection against these biases, enhancing fairness in our civil court justice system and discouraging speculative litigation. Most importantly, to the critics of this effort who cite an increased burden on federal court caseload, I say – an additional 43 cases per year is a small price to pay for equal justice.

Copyright © Emory University School of Law 2015 – All Rights Reserved

BIS Removes Cuba as State Sponsor of Terrorism in Regulations

On July 22, 2015, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), an agency of U.S. Department of Commerce, amended the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to reflect Cuba’s removal from designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The Secretary of State rescinded Cuba’s designation on May 29, 2015.

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As part of Cuba’s removal from designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, BIS amended the EAR to remove references in the text associating Cuba with terrorism. It also removes anti-terrorism (AT) license requirements from Cuba. Finally, BIS amended the EAR to remove Cuba from Country Group E:1, although Cuba remains on the Country Group E:2 list.

These amendments to the EAR affect certain license requirements and exceptions that apply to exports to Cuba. Specifically, the EAR apply to items that contain more than a de minimis amount of U.S.-origin content. For exports to most countries, that de minimis amount is 25 percent, but for exports to countries on the Country Group E:1 list, that de minimis amount is 10 percent. Exports of most items to Cuba are now also subject to the 25 percent de minimis rule. Yet, foreign-made items destined for Cuba that incorporate certain U.S.-origin 600 series content continue to be subject to the EAR regardless of level of U.S.-origin content.

Additionally, Cuba’s removal from the Country Group E:1 list makes exports to the country eligible for four new license exceptions including:

  • License Exception Servicing and Replacement of Parts and Equipment (RPL);
  • License Exception Governments, International Organizations, International Inspections Under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the International Space Station (GOV);
  • License Exception Baggage (BAG); and
  • License Exception Aircraft, Vessels and Spacecraft (AVS).

Despite these changes, it is important to remember that Cuba is still subject to a comprehensive embargo. Licenses are still required to export or reexport to Cuba any item subject to the EAR unless authorized by a license exception. Those who would like to export items authorized by license exceptions may only use license exceptions listed in 15 CFR 746.2(a).

©2015 Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved

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FIVE MINUTES ON… Anti-Bribery and Corruption Laws in Europe

Anti-bribery and corruption has been a hot topic in the US for almost 40 years. The topic has historically however received much less attention within Europe. That is now changing as Europe is beginning to catch up and many European countries have already implemented anti-bribery laws much stricter than those in the US. Recent events have put the topic back on the agenda and we can expect further debate on the effectiveness and efficacy of enforcement in Europe.

The levels of perceived corruption within Europe are generally quite good. Transparency International publish an annual Corruptions Perceptions Index which shows the perceived levels of corruption in 175 countries globally. In its 2014 report, the average score across the EU and Western Europe was 66 (with 0 being highly corrupt and 100 being very clean), much better than the global average of 43. Even those countries with the lowest scores in the EU and Western Europe, being Greece, Romania and Italy, had a score of 43, consistent with the global average. Seven of the top 10 least corrupt countries are actually in Europe (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Luxembourg).

Over the last five or so years, countries within Europe have been overhauling their existing, in many cases insufficient, anti-bribery regimes and some countries have implemented anti-bribery laws for the first time. We consider some of the specific regimes below along with their differences and similarities. The majority, if not all, are actually stricter than the laws in the US. The differences of the laws in Europe to the laws in the US have been somewhat of a surprise to many organisations who currently comply with the laws in the US and who don’t necessarily realise that they now need to enhance their practices to comply with more stringent regimes.

What’s Been Happening Across the Pond?

In the US, the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (FCPA) came into force on 19 December 1977. The FCPA criminalises the paying or offering of a bribe to a foreign official, although the public official themselves do not commit an offence by receiving the bribe. The FCPA requires organisations to have accounting and other controls in place to prevent and detect bribery, but does not specifically require broader anti-bribery programmes. As well as US organisations, the FCPA has extraterritorial reach and catches any other organisation that uses any means of US commerce, including mails, emails, faxes, bank transactions, and similar acts.

Top of the Class: the Uk

Much of the change in approach within Europe and indeed further afield has arguably been led by the introduction in the UK of the Bribery Act 2010 (Bribery Act), which came into force on 1 July 2011, and which is thought to be the strictest anti-bribery legislation in the world.

Similarities between the FCPA and the Bribery Act Differences between the FCPA and the Bribery Act

Territorial Reach

The Bribery Act has a wide territorial reach. It extends not only to offences committed in the UK but also to offences committed outside the UK where the person committing them has a close connection with the UK by virtue of them being a British national or ordinarily resident in the UK, a body incorporated in the UK or a Scottish partnership. For corporations, the corporate offence in the Bribery Act extends to UK as well as non-UK organisations that carry on business or part of a business in the UK. So, for example, a Spanish company that exports to the UK can be in breach of the corporate offence for bribery occurring in Spain, even though that bribery does not involve any UK connected person.

Penalties

The penalties available for breaches of the Bribery Act are severe. They include an unlimited fine, up to 10 years in prison, and orders for directors to be disqualified. Companies can also be prohibited from public procurement and the proceeds from the bribe, for example the monies gained from a contract obtained through corruption, can be confiscated. Penalties under FCPA are slightly less severe with fines being capped to US$2 million (for corporations) and imprisonment for individuals being limited to a maximum of five years.

All Bribes Are Caught, Even Business-to-Business!

Arguably the single most important difference between the Bribery Act and the FCPA is that the Bribery Act prohibits the offering or receiving of a bribe and the bribery of Foreign Public Officials. Unlike the FCPA, the Bribery Act therefore captures private (business to business) bribery and also makes it an offence to receive a bribe as well as pay/offer to pay one. Directors and senior managers can also be found guilty of an offence if their organisation commits one of these offences with their consent or connivance.

Facilitation Payments

Facilitation Payments are payments made to expedite or secure the performance of a “routine government action”. The FCPA expressly authorises such payments. In the UK, such payments are prohibited under the Bribery Act.

The Corporate Defence

The Bribery Act also introduces a corporate offence of failing to prevent a bribe being paid, for which it will be a defence for an organisation to show that it has “adequate procedures” in place to prevent such bribery. Guidance produced by the UK Ministry of Justice explains that these “adequate procedures” need to be guided by six principles: Top-level commitment; Risk assessment; Proportionate procedures; Due diligence; Communication (including training) and Monitoring and review. As stated above, FCPA only requires accounting and other controls to prevent and detect bribery, nothing broader.

Other EU Member States

Most EU Member States have enacted anti-bribery laws with heavy fines. When compared to the Bribery Act, however, such laws are generally more limited in scope and tend to focus on bribery of public officials. Most are however at least consistent with FCPA.

In France, most of the French anti-corruption provisions relevant to businesses are laid down in the French Criminal Code and relate to both the public and private sector and both the offeror and the recipient. Like the UK, the law in France also has an extraterritorial reach and will interestingly apply amongst other situations, where the victim of the bribe is a French national. Penalties for breach of French laws include imprisonment for, in some cases, up to 15 years and financial penalties including, for companies, fines of, in some cases, up to €5 million or twice the amount of the proceeds stemming from the offence. Unlike the UK, there are in France, however, no legal requirements for implementing preventive procedures.

Germany’s anti-bribery laws are contained in the Criminal Code, which prohibits offering, paying or accepting a bribe in domestic or foreign transactions. Separately, civil liability can, if certain criteria are met, attach to companies for offences committed on their behalf due to the Administrative Offences Act. Owners/managers can also be found liable in certain situations. Penalties include five years’ imprisonment (10 years’ imprisonment in severe cases involving a member/official of a public body), a criminal fine and confiscation of monies obtained from the bribe. The Criminal Code also applies to offences committed abroad. One of the key cases to be enforced in Germany was that against Siemens AG, who paid German authorities almost €600 million in fines after they were investigated for paying bribes to secure public-works contracts in a number of countries. This was in addition to fines paid in the US for breaching FCPA.

In the Netherlands, anti-corruption and bribery laws are predominantly aimed at attempts to bribe public officials. Unlike the UK, Dutch law has relatively limited jurisdictional reach. For example, a foreign non-Dutch company that has committed acts of bribery of a non-Dutch foreign official outside the Netherlands is not subject to the criminal laws of the Netherlands. The maximum penalty under Dutch law is a fine of €740,000 for each case of bribery and for individuals, imprisonment for four years (one year for private commercial bribery) and a fine of up to €74,000.

Outlook

While most Member States have clearly improved their anti-bribery regimes in recent years, what seems to be the biggest hurdle is insufficient enforcement and the considerable differences in the enforcement levels across Europe, in particular when it comes to bribery abroad. Relying on the UK (or the US) will soon stretch the already limited resources that individual countries can bring to bear. It seems that the European Union itself will take action in the foreseeable future. Certainly there would be jurisdictional concerns as regards the criminal aspects for individuals, but the Commission’s war on cartels has shown that it is well-suited to enforcing policy. Currently, however, the Commission contends itself with issues in a biannual report on corruption in each Member State.

Given the extra-territorial reach discussed above, European businesses need to make sure that they are compliant with all the different antibribery laws that could affect their business. This is not only the laws in their own countries, but also the laws abroad. Many organisations acting internationally and globally are seeking compliance with the Bribery Act as compliance with the Bribery Act should be sufficient to also achieve compliance with any other anti-bribery legislation.

© Copyright 2015 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

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Puerto Rico Supreme Court: Former Exec Cannot Sue Individual Board Members for Breach of Employment Contract

A former employee cannot sue individual members of a corporation’s board of directors for breach of an employment contract and negligence in execution of fiduciary duties, where: 1) the individual board members are not parties to the employment contract; and 2) the employee and his relatives are not shareholders with standing to sue board members for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court has held. Randolfo Rivera San Feliz et al v. Junta de Directores de Firstbank Corporate et al., 2015 TSPR 61, 196 DPR ___ (2015).

Plaintiff Randolfo Rivera was a former executive of a banking entity in Puerto Rico. The terms of his employment were established in a contract with the bank. The contract provided that any decision regarding the contract, including termination of employment, had to be approved by at least two-thirds of all the members of the bank’s board of directors. The contract also contained a clause requiring arbitration of any controversy regarding the interpretation of the employment contract.

The bank terminated Rivera’s contract in June of 2010. He filed a lawsuit against the bank in Puerto Rico Superior Court, alleging unjust dismissal and breach of contract under the law of Puerto Rico. While this litigation was pending, Rivera filed a separate lawsuit against each member of the board of directors, requesting damages for breach of contract and alleged negligence in the execution of their fiduciary duties. He asserted the board members wrongfully allowed his termination in violation of his employment contract. Rivera’s partner, children, and siblings were included as co-plaintiffs in the second lawsuit, each alleging emotional and economic damages arising out of the employment termination.

The initial lawsuit between Rivera and the bank was dismissed by the court for lack of jurisdiction in light of the employment contract’s arbitration provision.

The second lawsuit, against the board of directors, also was dismissed at the pleadings stage. The court held Rivera and his family may not sue individual members of the board of directors for violation of their fiduciary duty, because such a claim was available only to shareholders of a corporation through a derivative action and neither Rivera nor his relatives were shareholders. Rivera and his relatives appealed the dismissal of this lawsuit and the case eventually came before the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

Puerto Rico’s highest court upheld dismissal of the action because a non-shareholder does not have standing to sue individual directors of a corporation for an alleged violation of their fiduciary duty. The Supreme Court reiterated that a breach of fiduciary duty claim requires an existing relationship between plaintiffs and defendants, such as the one that exists between shareholders and a corporation’s board of directors. The Court also held that the board of directors could not be liable for breach of contract because it was the corporation, and not the individual members of the board, that was a party to the contract.

Associate Justice Annabelle Rodriguez-Rodriguez dissented. She noted that the employment contract at issue had a clause that was undisputed which provided for arbitration of all controversies related to interpretation of the contract. Since the second lawsuit was based on alleged breach of fiduciary duty arising out of the termination of the contract, she would have dismissed for lack of jurisdiction in light of the arbitration clause and abstained from analyzing the nature of the claims for purposes of a standing issue.

In light of Puerto Rico law governing employee terminations, employers should tread carefully when drafting employment contracts that contain specific reasons for termination, as well as notification requirements.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2015

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“3-Year” Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals EADs Must Be Returned: Immigration

USCIS announced that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients of employment authorizations documents (EAD) after February 16, 2015, with validity longer than two years, were “likely mistakenly issued and must be returned.” According to a USCIS Factsheet:

“Individuals who are required to return three-year EADs and have not done so will be contacted by USCIS by phone or in-person. For the purpose of retrieving these three-year EADs, USCIS may visit the homes of those individuals who have not yet returned their invalid 3-year EAD or responded to USCIS. When contacting individuals in person, the USCIS employees will show the individuals their credentials. USCIS will make every attempt to call the individual in advance of the visit…

The reason for this action is that, after a court order in Texas v. United States, No. B-14-254 (S.D. Tex.) was issued, USCIS could approve DACA deferred action requests and related employment authorization applications only for two-year periods.”

EADs mailed before February 16, 2015 are not subject to this requirement as they were issued before the court injunction.

Further information and contact details can be found on the USCIS factsheet.

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