Changes to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act and Claims for Punitive Damages

Steven Ahillen

By Steven Ahillen



Governor Mike Parson recently signed Missouri SB 591, which brings significant changes to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA) and claims for punitive damages. The statute also adds new evidentiary and pleading requirements that will make it more difficult to prevail on a claim under the MMPA and to obtain punitive damages generally. The changes apply to lawsuits filed on or after August 28, 2020.

Changes to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act

The MMPA (Section 407.010 RSMo., et seq.) is a broad consumer protection statute designed to safeguard the public against dishonest business practices. Under the MMPA, it is unlawful to engage in any deception, fraud, misrepresentation, or unfair practice in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise in commerce, or solicitation of funds for a charitable purpose. While the act charges the attorney general to police the marketplace, it also provides for a private cause of action for those who have been victimized. Attorneys’ fees are recoverable under the statute, and it has proven to be a popular tool in suits against businesses. However, SB 591 adds several new requirements that a plaintiff must satisfy to prevail on an MMPA claim.

  • Reasonableness is Required

Continue reading »

A Closer Look at Title VII and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Katherine M. Flett

By Katherine M. Flett



Authored by Katherine M. Flett with assistance from Connor P. Lynch

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that Title VII of the Civil Right Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity.

Background

In recent years, federal circuit courts have come to conflicting conclusions when addressing whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex, encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity.  In an attempt to resolve the inconsistent holdings across federal appellate courts, the Supreme Court agreed  to hear three cases that dealt with this issue: Altitude Express,  Inc. v. Zarda; Bostock v. Clayton County; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. E.E.O.C. All three cases involved an employer allegedly firing a long-time employee simply for being homosexual or transgender. Continue reading »

Bankruptcy and Workouts After the CARES Act

A. Thomas DeWoskin

By A. Thomas DeWoskin



As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, it is getting even more difficult for small business owners to plan for the future. It now appears likely that the crisis will not simply end – it will ebb and flow in waves for quite a while, yet another variable for small business owners to consider for an extremely uncertain future.

Despite the payroll protection program and all of the other government support programs being enacted in an effort to support the economy[1], it is a virtual certainty that hundreds of thousands of small businesses will need to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations or enter into out of court workout agreements with their creditors during the next few years.

Several changes to a debtor’s ability to survive this chaos have occurred in recent months:

  • The enactment of Subchapter V of Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code;
  • The enactment of the CARES Act; and
  • The practical results of so many businesses teetering on the brink of failure.

Before getting into the details, I am repeating my basic plea to all small business owners facing potential troubles. PLEASE: Continue reading »

Business Interruption Insurance Coverage and COVID-19

Lauren L. Wood

By Lauren L. Wood



In this time of massive economic downturn, stay-at-home orders and required closures of non-essential businesses, business owners are looking to their commercial insurance policies to provide coverage for their losses. Specifically, insureds are looking to apply the business interruption coverage of their policies. Of course, each specific policy must be read and applied to the insured’s specific situation, but the pandemic certainly raises issues that will need to be addressed by many insurers and their policy holders.

Business interruption coverage provides insureds with protection for a reduction in income resulting from a necessary suspension in operations. Often, this coverage applies when a business sustains loss of income due to physical damage to the property, such as from a fire or flood. Business owners filing claims arising out of the COVID-19 crisis are finding that their insurers do not interpret “physical damage” to include damage caused by the pandemic. Insureds have already begun filing lawsuits across the country, challenging this interpretation. They argue that possible COVID-19 contamination constitutes physical damage triggering coverage.

Some policies specifically address loss and damage from a virus, either in their exclusions to coverage or in their endorsements expanding coverage. Although many commercial policies contain coverage exclusions for damage caused by a virus or bacteria, insureds are examining these exclusions for ambiguities that may be construed in their favor. Disputes are also occurring over the interpretation of endorsements referencing losses caused by a virus. In one such case, SCGM v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, a theater chain filed a declaratory judgment action in The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas against its insurer Lloyd’s of London, for its anticipated refusal to provide coverage under a “Pandemic Event Endorsement.” Lloyd’s has asserted that COVID-19 is not specifically listed as a covered disease on the endorsement while SCGM argues it is a variation of SARS-CoV, which is listed.

Another coverage contained in many policies is “civil authority” coverage. This coverage typically applies when a civil authority (i.e., a state or local government) issues an order prohibiting access to a business due to direct physical damage or loss to a property other than the insured premises. Continue reading »

Video Depositions – the New Normal for the Age of Social Distancing

David R. Bohm

By David R. Bohm



The Circuit Courts for St. Louis City and County have both issued Administrative Orders that approve of taking of depositions by video conference.  Both of these orders require that a party opposing the taking of a deposition by video conference, for that reason alone, has the burden to prove that the deposition not go forward (i.e., that the deposition notice be quashed).

At a Town Hall videoconference on April 16, Judge Rex Burlison, the presiding judge of the St. Louis City Circuit Court, made clear that, at least in the city, a party opposing the taking of a deposition by videoconference will have a difficult time convincing the court not to permit such deposition to go forward.  For now, at least, in the age of social distancing amidst fear of the COVID-19 virus, it appears that videoconference depositions will be the new normal.

However, there are real issues that need to be addressed concerning depositions by videoconference.  Perhaps the most important has to do with the security of the videoconference platforms used by court reporting services.  In a survey of several large national court reporting services and one smaller service, they all reported using Zoom for depositions, despite recent reports by credible sources that Zoom has been hacked and is not secure.  Unless and until these security concerns are addressed, I will oppose taking of depositions over Zoom (although other services may be more secure).  The security of depositions is of particular concern when depositions involve businesses’ confidential information or otherwise will address sensitive information.

There are also questions regarding the preservation of video and audio of depositions, including how this will be done, how parties can access any recordings, and whether storage of any such video and/or audio is secure.  Again, the security of recordings of Zoom conferences has also been reported to be an issue. Continue reading »

Buckle Up, Buttercup: Missouri Governor Signs Law Enhancing Failure to Wear Seatbelt Defense

Laura Gerdes Long

By Laura Gerdes Long



Co-authored by Laura Gerdes Long & Katherine M. Flett

Failure to wear a seatbelt will be admissible in product liability cases in Missouri beginning January 1, 2020. Governor Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 30 into law on July 10, 2019, amending Section 307.178 RSMo to provide that a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt shall be admissible as evidence of comparative negligence or fault, causation, absence of a defect or hazard, and failure to mitigate damages in product liability lawsuits involving an automobile.  Previously, such evidence was only allowed to be admitted before the jury to mitigate damages up to 1% of the damages after any reductions for comparative negligence.

Dan Hegeman, the bill’s sponsor, said that Senate Bill 30 “serves the dual purpose of both creating fairer court procedures in which a jury is able to come to a broader understanding of the causes of a plaintiff’s injuries, and encouraging general seat belt safety.”

Continue reading »

New Benefits for Those in Financial Difficulty: The Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019

A. Thomas DeWoskin

By A. Thomas DeWoskin



If you own a small business (defined as one owing less than $2,725,625 in total debt) and are in or nearing financial difficulties, you should contact your attorney to learn more about The Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 (the Act).

Effective in February 2020, this new addition to Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code provides the benefits of a traditional Chapter 11 case, but with fewer burdens and more flexibility.

For instance:

  • There will be no creditors’ committee to deal with (unless the court orders otherwise).
  • A trustee will be appointed instead. This may be a mixed benefit.
    • On one hand, a good trustee might be able to help keep the case moving, negotiate a consensual plan of reorganization, object to claims, and take other burdens off the debtor.
    • On the other hand, a bad trustee might misuse his/her powers and make things worse for the debtor.
    • In either case, the debtor will pay the trustee on a percentage basis, generally under 5% of debtor’s quarterly revenues.
  • A status conference must be held within 60 days after the commencement of the case to further a prompt and economical resolution of the various issues involved.
  • No disclosure statement will be required, saving both time and attorney fees in the process.
  • Only the debtor may file a plan; creditors may not.
  • It is somewhat easier to “cram down” the terms of the plan on objecting creditors.
  • The Absolute Priority Rule is essentially eliminated, making it easier for owners to retain their ownership in the debtor.
  • Confirmation standards are relaxed, making it easier to get your reorganization approved.

Continue reading »

Re-evaluating Standards for Admissibility of Photographs of Vehicular Collisions

Laura Gerdes Long

By Laura Gerdes Long



Authored by Laura Gerdes Long with assistance from Mackenzie N. Allan

In Illinois, historically, two predominating schools of thought regarding the admissibility of photographs of vehicular collisions have existed. The first school of thought, Baraniak v. Krauby, holds that when using photos to correlate vehicular damage to injuries, expert testimony is always necessary. The second school of thought, Fronabarger v. Burns, holds that vehicular collision photographs are admissible if the jury can properly relate the vehicular damage depicted in the photos to the injuries without the aid of an expert. In 2008, the Fronabarger court declined to follow the rigid rule from Baraniak.

In the 2019 case of Peach v. McGovern, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Illinois addressed this contentious issue once again. Here, the plaintiff and the defendant were involved in a car accident where the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff. The defendant claims that she was at a full stop behind the plaintiff, and she rolled into the plaintiff, “tapping” his truck, when she accidentally let her foot off the brake. The plaintiff contends that the defendant “plowed” into him at a speed of 20-30 miles per hour. After the accident, the plaintiff began experiencing severe neck issues, incurring over $23,000 in medical expenses.

Paramedic holding drip while helping manAt trial, plaintiff presented his pain management specialist as an expert witness, who opined that the plaintiff’s neck injuries were consistent with having been rear-ended in a motor vehicle collision, and even a very low speed collision could have caused this damage. Though the plaintiff had a degenerative disc condition, the expert testified that the plaintiff’s injuries were consistent with a sudden impact rather than the degenerative condition. The defendant did not present any expert witnesses, instead using the photographs depicting minimal damage to both vehicles in her closing arguments to argue that the plaintiff exaggerated the impact of the collision in order to relate his injuries to the collision. Continue reading »

#SocialMediaAsEvidence

Laura Gerdes Long

By Laura Gerdes Long



Authored by Laura Gerdes Long with assistance from Jessica A. Gottsacker

Social media has officially taken over our lives. The statistics only confirm this fact. There are 2.3 billion active social media users across the world. Any given internet user has an average of five social media accounts. Facebook has over 1.71 billion users, YouTube has over 1 billion users, and WhatsApp has 900 million users. Every day, there are 60 billion messages sent through Facebook messenger and Whats-App. Three hundred hours of videos are uploaded on YouTube every minute. Snapchat users watch 6 billion videos on average a day.

It is clear that an individual’s accounts contain a plethora of intimate, personal details meant to be shared exclusively with friends or a fan base. But this begs the question, with this personal nature of social media, what can be excluded from court? The answer: potentially none of it. Continue reading »

UPDATE: Salaries Speak Louder than Words

Katherine M. Flett

By Katherine M. Flett



co-authored by Katherine M. Flett and Jessica A. Gottsacker

Equal Pay Day was celebrated this month on April 2, 2019. This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. Thankfully, this date is not stationary. In fact, the date occurs seventeen days earlier than it did in 2005. While there is a lot to celebrate with that achievement, there is still a long way to go to completely close the gender wage gap.

In fact, the Supreme Court recently faced the opportunity to potentially close this wage gap even further when it granted cert to Rizo v. Yovino. See Katherine Flett’s blog post titled “Salaries Speak Louder than Words” for more discussion on the case. In Rizo, the Ninth Circuit sitting en banc found that the use of salary history to establish a starting salary violated the Equal Pay Act, as it perpetuated the discriminatory nature of women historically being underpaid in almost all sectors of employment. Thus, reliance on prior pay could no longer be considered as an affirmative defense under the Act’s fourth catchall exception, “any other factor other than sex.” Continue reading »