Federal Laws Do Not Preempt Connecticut Law Providing Employment Protections to Medical Marijuana Users

Connecticut employees using medical marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions as allowed under Connecticut law for “qualified users” are protected under state law from being fired or refused employment based solely on their marijuana use. Employers who violate those protections risk being sued for discrimination, according to a recent federal district court decision.

Background

In Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operation Company (3:16-cv-01938; D. Conn. Aug. 8, 2017), the federal district court ruled that “qualified users” are protected from criminal prosecution and are not subject to penalty, sanction or being denied any right or privilege under federal laws, such as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), because the federal laws do not preempt Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA).

PUMA prohibits employers from refusing to hire, fire, penalize, or threaten applicants or employees solely on the basis of being “qualified users” of medical marijuana. PUMA exempts patients, their caregivers and prescribing doctors from state penalties against those who use or distribute marijuana, and it explicitly prohibits discrimination by employers, schools and landlords.

In Noffsinger, Plaintiff was employed as a recreational therapist at Touchpoints, a long term care and rehabilitation provider, and she was recruited for a position as a director of recreational therapy at Bride Brook, a nursing facility. After a phone interview, she was offered the position at Bride Brook and accepted the offer, and she was told to give notice to Touchpoints, which she did to begin working at Bride Brook within a week. Plaintiff scheduled a meeting to complete paperwork and routine pre-employment drug screening for Bride Brook, and at the meeting, she disclosed her being qualified to use marijuana for PTSD under PUMA. The job offer was later rescinded because she tested positive for cannabis; in the meantime, Plaintiff’s position at Touchpoints was filled, so she could not remain employed there.

Litigation

Plaintiff sued for violation of PUMA’s anti-discrimination provisions, common law wrongful rescission of a job offer in violation of public policy and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Defendant filed a Rule 12(b)(6) pre-answer motion to dismiss based on preemption under CSA, ADA, and FDCA. The federal court denied the motion and ruled that PUMA did not conflict with the CSA, ADA or FDCA, because those federal laws are not intended to preempt or supersede state employment discrimination laws. The court concluded that CSA does not make it illegal to employ a marijuana user, and it does not regulate employment practices; the ADA does not regulate non-workplace activity or illegal use of drugs outside the workplace or drug use that does not affect job performance; and the FDCA does not regulate employment and does not apply to PUMA’s prohibitions.

The court’s decision is notable in that it is the first federal decision to determine that the CSA does not preempt a state medical marijuana law’s anti-discrimination provision, and reaches a different result than the District of New Mexico, which concluded that requiring accommodation of medical marijuana use conflicts with the CSA because it would mandate the very conduct the CSA proscribes. The Noffsinger decision supplements a growing number of state court decisions that have upheld employment protections for medical marijuana users contained in other state statutes. These decisions stand in stark contrast to prior state court decisions California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, and Washington that held that decriminalization laws – i.e., statutes that do not contain express employment protections – do not confer a legal right to smoke marijuana and do not protect medical marijuana users from adverse employment actions based on positive drug tests.

Key Takeaways

Employers may continue to prohibit use of marijuana at the workplace; and qualified users who come to work under the influence, impaired and unable to perform essential job functions are subject to adverse employment decisions. Employers in Connecticut, however, may risk being sued for discrimination for enforcing a drug testing policy against lawful medical marijuana users.  In those cases, employers may have to accommodate off-duty marijuana use, and may take disciplinary action only if the employee is impaired by marijuana at work or while on duty.

It remains unclear how employers can determine whether an employee is under the influence of marijuana at work. Unlike with alcohol, current drug tests do not indicate whether and to what extent an employee is impaired by marijuana. Reliance on observations from employees may be problematic, as witnesses may have differing views as to the level of impairment, and, in any event, observation alone does not indicate the source of impairment. Employers following this “impairment standard” are advised to obtain as many data points as possible before making an adverse employment decision.

All employers – and particularly federal contractors required to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act and those who employ a zero-tolerance policy – should review their drug-testing policy to ensure that it: (a) sets clear expectations of employees; (b) provides justifications for the need for drug-testing; and (c) expressly allows for adverse action (including termination or refusal to hire) as a consequence of a positive drug test.

Additionally, employers enforcing zero-tolerance policies should be prepared for future challenges in those states prohibiting discrimination against and/or requiring accommodation of medical marijuana users. Eight other states besides Connecticut have passed similar medical marijuana laws that have express anti-discrimination protections for adverse employment actions: Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York, Minnesota and Rhode Island. Those states may require the adjustment or relaxation of a hiring policy to accommodate a medical marijuana user. Additionally, courts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have permitted employment discrimination lawsuits filed by medical marijuana users to proceed.

Finally, employers should be mindful of their drug policies’ applicability not only to current employees, but also to applicants.

This post was written by David S. Poppick & Nathaniel M. Glasser of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C.  ©2017. All rights reserved.
For more Health Care Law legal analysis go to The National Law Review

DOE Announces $8.8 Million In Funding For Algae Technology Innovation Projects

On September 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selected an additional four Productivity Enhanced Algae and Toolkits (PEAK) projects to receive up to $8.8 million.  The projects aim to develop high-impact tools and techniques that will increase the productivity of algae organisms to reduce the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts.  In total, DOE has awarded over $16 million in funding to the initiative.

The project winners include:

  • Colorado School of Mines, in partnership with Global Algae Innovations, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Colorado State University, which will use advanced directed evolution approaches in combination with high-performance, custom-built, solar simulation bioreactors to improve the productivity of robust wild algal strains;
  • University of California, San Diego, which will work with Triton Health and Nutrition, Algenesis Materials, and Global Algae Innovations on the development of genetic tools, high-throughput screening methods, and breeding strategies for green algae and cyanobacteria, targeting robust production strains;
  • University of Toledo, in partnership with Montana State University and the University of North Carolina, which will cultivate microalgae in high-salinity and high-alkalinity media to achieve productivities without needing to add concentrated carbon dioxide, and deliver molecular toolkits, including metabolic modeling combined with targeted genome editing; and
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which will ecologically engineer algae to encourage growth of bacteria that efficiently remineralize dissolved organic matter to improve carbon dioxide uptake and simultaneously remove excess oxygen.
This post was written by  Kathleen M. Roberts of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. ©2017
For more Environmental & Energy legal analysis go to The National Law Review
Swiss Privacy Shield

So…Everyone’s Been Compromised? What To Do In The Wake of the Equifax Breach

By now, you’ve probably heard that over 143 million records containing highly sensitive personal information have been compromised in the Equifax data breach. With numbers exceeding 40% of the population of the United States at risk, chances are good that you or someone you know – or more precisely, many people you know – will be affected. But until you know for certain, you are probably wondering what to do until you find out.

To be sure, there has been a lot of confusion. Many feel there was an unreasonable delay in reporting the breach. And now that it has been reported, some have suggested that people who sign up with the Equifax website to determine if they were in the breach might be bound to an arbitration clause and thereby waive their right to file suit if necessary later (although Equifax has since said that is not the case). Others have reported that the “personal identification number” (PIN) provided by Equifax for those who do register with the site is nothing more than a date and time stamp, which could be subject to a brute-force attack, which is not necessarily reassuring when dealing with personal information. Still others have reported that the site itself is subject to vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting (XSS), which could give hackers another mechanism to steal personal information. And some have even questioned the validity of the responses provided by Equifax when people query to see if they might have been impacted.

In all the chaos, it’s hard to know how to best proceed. Fortunately, you have options other than using Equifax’s website.

1. Place a Credit Freeze

Know that if you are a victim of the breach, you will be notified by Equifax eventually. In the meantime, consider placing a credit freeze on your accounts with the three major credit reporting bureaus. All three major credit reporting bureaus allow consumers to freeze their credit reports for a small fee, and you will need to place a freeze with each credit bureau. If you are the victim of identity fraud, or if your state’s law mandates, a credit freeze can be implemented without charge. In some states, you may incur a small fee. Lists of fees for residents of various states can be found at the TransUnionExperian, and Equifax websites. Placing a freeze on your credit reports will restrict access to your information and make it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. This will not affect your credit score but there may be a second fee associated with lifting a credit freeze, so it is important to research your options before proceeding. Also, know that you will likely face a delay period before a freeze can be lifted, so spur-of-the-moment credit opportunities might suffer.

Here is information for freezing your credit with each credit bureau:

Equifax Credit Freeze

  • You may do a credit freeze online or by certified mail (return receipt requested) to:

            Equifax Security Freeze

            P.O. Box 105788

            Atlanta, GA 30348

  • To unfreeze, you must do a temporary thaw by regular mail, online or by calling 1-800-685-1111 (for New York residents call 1-800-349-9960).

Experian Credit Freeze

  • You may do a credit freeze online, by calling 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742) or by certified mail (return receipt requested) to:

            Experian

            P.O. Box 9554

            Allen, TX 75013

  • To unfreeze, you must do a temporary thaw online or by calling 1-888-397-3742.

TransUnion Credit Freeze

  • You may do a credit freeze online, by phone (1-888-909-8872) or by certified mail (return receipt requested) to:

            TransUnion LLC

            P.O. Box 2000

            Chester, PA 19016

  • To unfreeze, you must do a temporary thaw online or by calling 1-888-909-8872.

After you complete a freeze, make sure you have a pen and paper handy because you will be given a PIN code to keep in a safe place.

2. Obtain a Free Copy of Your Credit Report

Consider setting up a schedule to obtain a copy of your free annual credit report from each of the reporting bureaus on a staggered basis. By obtaining and reviewing a report from one of the credit reporting bureaus every three or four months, you can better position yourself to respond to unusual or fraudulent activity more frequently. Admittedly, there is a chance that one of the reporting bureaus might miss an account that is reported by the other two but the benefit offsets the risk.

3. Notify Law Enforcement and Obtain a Police Report

If you find you are the victim of identity fraud (that is, actual fraudulent activity – not just being a member of the class of affected persons), notify your local law enforcement agency to file a police report. Having a police report will help you to challenge fraudulent activity, will provide you with verification of the fraud to provide to credit companies’ fraud investigators, and will be beneficial if future fraud occurs. To that end, be aware that additional fraud may arise closer to the federal tax filing deadline and having a police report already on file can help you resolve identity fraud problems with the Internal Revenue Service if false tax returns are filed under your identity.

4. Obtain an IRS IP PIN

Given the nature of the information involved in the breach, an additional option for individuals residing in Florida, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. is to obtain an IRS IP PIN, which is a 6-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers to help prevent the misuse of Social Security numbers in federal tax filings. An IP PIN helps the IRS verify a taxpayer’s identity and accept their electronic or paper tax return. When a taxpayer has an IP PIN, it prevents someone else from filing a tax return with the taxpayer’s SSN.

If a return is e-filed with a taxpayer’s SSN and an incorrect or missing IP PIN, the IRS’s system will reject it until the taxpayer submits it with the correct IP PIN or the taxpayer files on paper. If the same conditions occur on a paper filed return, the IRS will delay its processing and any refund the taxpayer may be due for the taxpayer’s protection while the IRS determines if it is truly the taxpayer’s.

Information regarding eligibility for an IRS IP PIN and instructions is available here and to access the IRS’s FAQs on the issue, please go here.

Conclusion

Clearly, the Equifax breach raises many issues about which many individuals need to be concerned – and the pathway forward is uncertain at the moment. But by being proactive, being cautious, and taking appropriate remedial measures available to everyone, you can better position yourself to avoid fraud, protect your rights, and mitigate future fraud that might arise.

 This post was written by Justin L. Root Sara H. Jodka of Dickinson Wright PLLC © Copyright 2017
For more legal news go to The National Law Review

Trump Administration Issues New Guidance for Automated Driving Systems

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced yesterday the Trump administration’s first significant guidance concerning autonomous vehicles and Automated Driving Systems (ADS).

The new voluntary guidelines, titled Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety, are intended to encourage innovation in the industry and are being touted as the administration’s “new, non-regulatory approach to promoting the safe testing and development of automated vehicles.” One of the most important aspects of these guidelines is the NHTSA’s clarification of its view of the delineation between the roles of the states and the federal government with respect to ADS technology.

The new guidelines replace the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy (FAVP), which was released by the Obama administration in 2016A Vision for Safety comprises voluntary guidance for vehicle manufacturers, best practices for state legislatures when drafting ADS legislation, and a request for further comment.

Autonomous-vehicle manufacturers are asked to undertake a voluntary self-assessment addressing 12 safety elements discussed in the new guidance. That is a slight departure from the FAVP, which detailed a 15-point safety assessment. The safety self-assessment remains voluntary, and NHTSA emphasizes that there is no mechanism to compel manufacturers to participate. The agency also stated that the testing or deployment of new ADS technologies need not be delayed to complete a self-assessment.

In what may be the most significant component of the guidance, NHTSA made clear its role as the primary regulator of ADS technology by “strongly encourage[ing] States not to codify th[e] Voluntary Guidance . . . as a legal requirement for any phases of development, testing, or deployment of ADSs.”

Further acknowledging the potential problems associated with a patchwork of state laws, the agency expressed its belief that “[a]llowing NHTSA alone to regulate the safety design and performance aspects of ADS technology will help avoid conflicting Federal and State laws and regulations that could impede deployment.” States are instead tasked by A Vision for Safety with regulating licensing of human drivers, motor vehicle registration, traffic laws, safety inspections, and insurance.

The new guidance comes just one week after the House of Representatives passed the SELF-DRIVE Act designed to eliminate legal obstacles that could interfere with the deployment of autonomous vehicles. However, as NHTSA and Congress are seeking to speed up ADS development by removing regulatory and legal impediments, it is noteworthy that on the same day NHTSA announced A Vision for Safety, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for NHTSA to require automakers to install “system safeguards to limit the use of automated vehicle systems to those conditions for which they were designed.”

In an abstract of its forthcoming final report on the 2016 fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S operating in semi-autonomous mode, the NTSB concluded that “operational limitations” in the Tesla’s system played a major role in the fatal crash and that the vehicle’s semi-autonomous system lacked the safeguards necessary to ensure that the system was not misused. These recent developments only underscore the uncertainty facing the industry as regulators attempt to keep pace with fast-developing technology.

This post was written by Neal Walters and Casey G. Watkins of  Ballard Spahr LLP Copyright ©
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Hurricane Harvey Client Alert: Tax Filing and Payment Deadlines Extended for Victims

Victims of Hurricane Harvey in some designated areas now have until January 31, 2018 to file certain federal tax returns and make payments.

On August 28, 2017, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced in a news release that it would postpone various individual and business federal tax return filing and payment deadlines that were to occur on or after August 23, 2017 until January 31, 2018 for certain persons affected by Hurricane Harvey. Specifically, this extension applies to taxpayers located in areas designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as qualifying for individual assistance.[1] Any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located within these designated areas will automatically receive the extension. Taxpayers in areas that are later added as qualifying for individual assistance by FEMA will automatically receive the extension as well. Additionally, taxpayers who are outside of the designated area but have necessary records needed to meet deadlines located in a designated area may qualify for the extension, but must contact the IRS to determine eligibility for relief.

As noted above, the specific relief announced by the IRS extends federal tax return filing and payment deadlines for individuals and businesses with original deadlines that would have occurred starting on August 23, 2017 to January 31, 2018. In other words, individuals and businesses will have until January 31, 2018 to file federal tax returns and make federal tax payments that have either an original or extended due date during this period. For individuals, the extension covers 2016 income tax returns that received “automatic” filing extensions until October 16, 2017; however, tax payments associated with these returns are not eligible for the extension because the payments were originally due on April 18, 2017. Additionally, the extension applies to the September 15, 2017 and January 16, 2018 deadlines for making quarterly estimated tax payments. For businesses, the extension covers the October 31, 2017 deadline for quarterly payroll and excise tax returns. Notably, the IRS announcement also states that the IRS will waive late-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits that are normally due on or after August 23, 2017 and prior to September 7, 2017, as long as the deposits are made by September 7, 2017.


[1] When the IRS news release was originally issued on August 28, there were 18 counties in areas designated by FEMA as qualifying for individual assistance. By August 30 (and as of August 31), FEMA had designated another 11 counties, bringing the total counties eligible for this relief up to 29.

This post was written by Donald-Bruce Abrams, Casey S. AugustJennifer Breen and William P. Zimmerman of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review 
Farm, Green, Feild

Court Orders Monsanto Roundup Safety Documents to be Disclosed

Monsanto is catching a lot of heat now that a court has unsealed documents that cast the company in a negative light and suggest that it was responsible for providing false assertions to the government and public regarding the safety of Roundup. As the most popular herbicide in the world, Roundup and similar products produced by Monsanto are used across the globe for the elimination of pests from lawns, crops, gardens and nurseries. It has provided research that opposes the belief Roundup’s main active ingredient can cause cancer, but the documents unsealed by the court show that these accounts were misleading and, in some cases, false.

Ghostwritten Research

The research that was presented to defend the safety of its products was in fact, ghostwritten and attributed to academics. It also claimed that a senior EPA official attempted to dismiss a report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services that the product could in fact be linked to the deaths of numerous people who suffered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The evidence tells a story of arguments within the Environmental Protection Agency and conflicting beliefs over whether Roundup and similar products were safe to use.

Emails between Monsanto executives and Jess Rowland of the EPA discuss an effort to disrupt the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services to make its own determination and review of the product. Rowland states in the emails that he should receive a medal if he is able to succeed in his interference.

World Health Organization Classifies Products as Carcinogenic

The growing litigation over Roundup was sparked off by the classification of Roundup as a carcinogen, due to the discovery of a link between glyphosate and cancer in animals and the destruction of DNA and chromosomes in human cells. Despite the research provided by the WHO, Monsanto went to great lengths to continue the defense of its product and to assert that it was as safe to consume as salt.

While Monsanto claims that glyphosate is safe, those who have come forward with claims against the company allege that Monsanto has repeatedly falsified research and information in order to fool the government and the public. In its defense, Monsanto has claimed that the unsealed documents are being presented out of context and that they provide isolated information. Numerous health agencies around the world have presented conflicting arguments over the safety of these products, so the science has not been settled just yet.

This post was written by Jonathan Rosenfeld of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, Copyright © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Collaboration That Works: 2017 LMA Technology Conference Midwest

The event will be held on September 25th and 26th at the University Club of Chicago. Check out more about this years Technology Conference Midwest and LMA!

 

The National Law Review is proud to be this year’s Metabyte Sponsor!

2017 Legal Marketing Technology Conference Midwest

The Legal Marketing Technology Conferences are the largest conferences dedicated to technologies that law firm professionals use to identify, attract and support clients. They provide the premier forum to learn from and network with thought leaders and colleagues. The National Law Review is proud to be one of this years Megabyte Sponsor’s!

This year’s LMATech Midwest conference theme is Collaboration That Works.

The event will be held on September 25th and 26th at the University Club of Chicago.

 

 

For more information on this years conference go to: https://www.legalmarketing.org/page/midwest-tech-2017

The ABA Center for Human Rights Presents: International Due Process and Fair Trial Manual

Now available from the ABA: International Due Process and Fair Trial Manual.

ABA Due Process

Available as a book and an e-book, the Justice Defenders Manual is a relevant resource to provide a concise and clear handbook about human rights and how to defend them.

Available here.

Hurricanes and Act of God Defenses

Maritime contracts for services generally include clauses for performance, demurrage, deviation, termination, and suspension. Performance may be affected by an Act of God or Force Majeure clause and event. A typical Force Majeure clause reads as follows:

Except for the duty to make payments hereunder when due, and the indemnification provisions under this Agreement, neither Company nor Contractor shall be responsible to the other for any delay, damage or failure caused by or occasioned by a Force Majeure Event as used in this Agreement. “Force Majeure Event” includes: acts of God, action of the elements, warlike action, insurrection, revolution or civil strife, piracy, civil war or hostile action, strikes, differences with workers, acts of public enemies, federal or state laws, rules and regulations of any governmental authorities having jurisdiction in the premises or of any other group, organization or informal association (whether or not formally recognized as a government); inability to procure material, equipment or necessary labor in the open market acute and unusual labor or material or equipment shortages, or any other causes (except financial) beyond the control of either Party. Delays due to the above causes, or any of them, shall not be deemed to be a breach of or failure to perform under this Agreement.

A. Act of God

Act of God or Force Majeure is a defense to many contractual obligations, including performance, deviation, and demurrage. It may also be the basis to suspend or terminate a maritime agreement for cause. It is defined as an abnormal natural event that is overwhelming and cannot be forestalled nor controlled. Skandia Ins. Co., Ltd. V. Star Shipping, AS, 173 F.Supp. 2d 1228 (S.D. Ala. 2001) (Hurricane Georges cargo claim). It is also a defense to certain tort claims like collisions and allisions occurring during a storm. Petition of U.S., Heide Shipping & Trading v. S.S. Joseph Lykes, 425 F.2d 991 (5th Cir. 1970) (vessel break-away in Hurricane Betsy).

When plead, a party must demonstrate that it was prudent in predicting and attempting to avoid the impact of the overwhelming and unexpected natural event and took reasonable precautions under the circumstances. A failure to perform or third party tort damages are not subject to an Act of God defense if the failure results from human agency, neglect or an unseaworthy condition. Compania DeVapores Ins. Co., SA v. Mo-Pac R.R. Co., 232 F.2d 657 (5th Cir. 1985) (cargo claim for failure to take reasonable steps to guard against wind storm).

Following Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana held that a category 4 or 5 hurricane was an Act of God sufficient to bar a tort claim by a marina owner against the owner of a vessel that broke away from her berth, drifted and hit another vessel. The defense of Act of God applied because, 1) the accident was due exclusively to abnormal natural events without human interest, and (2) there was no intervening negligent behavior by the vessel owner. J.W. Stone Oil Dist., LLC v. Bollinger Shipyard, 2007 WL 2710809 (E.D. La. 2007). Judge Lemmon held in Stone Oil that hurricanes are considered as a matter of law to be an Act of God and defensible unless there is an intervening and contributing act of individual negligence. This obligation includes taking reasonable precautions based upon all available information.

In Simmons v. Lexington Ins. Co., 2010 WL 1254638 (E.D. La. 2010), aff’d., 401 Fed. Appx. 903 (5th Cir. 2010), J),  the courts similarly considered whether reasonable precautions had been taken by a marina to protect a sailboat during Hurricane Katrina under both Louisiana and maritime law. The Court reviewed other Katrina cases, including Conagra Trade Group, Inc. v. AEP Memco, LLC, 2009 WL 2023174 (E.D. La. 2009), and Coex Coffee Int’l., Inc. v. Dupuy Storage & Forwarding, LLC, 2008 WL 1884041 (E.D. La. 2008). (Katrina’s unprecedented flooding and devastation was an Act of God defense.) In Conagra, supra, Judge Fallon was asked to review a contract of affreightment for a cargo of wheat aboard a barge that sunk. Memco was found not negligent in delivering its barge of cargo to an affected berth several days before the weather forecast accurately predicted the landfall of Katrina.

In re S.S. Winged Arrow, 425 F.2d 991 (5th Cir. 1970), affirmed that where a vessel had been sufficiently moored based upon the anticipated path of Hurricane Betsy, the Act of God defense applied to relieve its owner of  tort damages resulting from its breakaway. From a review of the case law involving severe weather events, it is apparent that Act of God defenses will be granted as a defense to both third party tort claims and also contractual claims for failure to perform where reasonable decisions and precautionsunder the circumstances have been made.

B. Performance Clauses

Clauses for demurrage, detention or laytime usually involve delays in the loading or unloading of cargo or the delivery of goods and materials. Laytime is the period of time allowed for loading and unloading. Demurrage and detention are sums paid to compensate for time lost related to the delivery of equipment or cargo. Demurrage begins to run after the passage of laytime or the agreed time of delivery and performance. Damages are awarded for failure to perform. Deviation is an obligation to maintain a proper course in ordinary trade and to timely arrive at the agreed destination. All deviation clauses are subject to certain liberties. Any deviation may affect insurance and hire.

Typically a contract for maritime services can be terminated for cause or for convenience. Similarly, parties may negotiate terms to suspend performance, which would suspend payment of hire and performance of services. A suspension clause is typically an off-hire clause where the contract terms remain but no hire is paid. Usually a vessel owner will be compensated and reimbursed for certain additional expenses if a contract is terminated for convenience. An Act of God clause excuses delays in performance, but in most cases serves to either suspend performance or terminate the contract for cause as between the parties.

Similar defenses are also statutorily allowed under COGSA. Under the COGSA “perils of the sea” defense, a carrier and vessel are not liable for cargo damage proximately caused by an Act of God where the carrier is not independently negligent and its vessel seaworthy when confronted with an unexpected and abnormal event of nature. 46 USC 1304(2) (c) & (d) ; J.Gerber & Co. v S/S SABINE HOWALDT 437 F.2d. 580 (2nd Cir. 1971); Taisho Marine & Fire Ins. Co. v. Sea-Land ENDURANCE 815 F. 2d. (9th Cir. 1270).

C. Conclusion

The purpose of an Act of God clause in a contract or asserted as a defense to a maritime tort is to relieve a defendant from liability for performance and damages where there was an extreme natural event. Whether a particular storm or natural event is considered an ACT OF GOD is a question of fact. The factors to be considered in accessing an ACT OF GOD/FORCE MAJEURE include the intensity of the natural event and whether the conditions would normally be expected. In order to avail oneself of the ACT OF GOD defense a defendant must show a causal connection between the loss and the peril as well as defendant’s freedom from fault.

This post was written by Grady S. Hurley of Jones Walker LLP © 2017

For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review