McCormick Lindabury

Nearly all 401(k) plans are governed by the Employment Retirement Act of 1979 (“ERISA”). ERISA regulates pension, health & welfare, and other employee benefits including 401(k) programs.

Under ERISA, if owner of an ERISA-governed 401(k) plan dies, their surviving spouse is automatically entitled to 401(k) benefits at the time death, regardless of who has been named beneficiary. Under § 1055 of ERISA, if the owner of a retirement account is married when he or she dies, his or her spouse is automatically entitled to receive at least fifty percent (50%) of the money, regardless of what the beneficiary designation says. The Supreme Court has explained that § 1055 reflects Congress’s intent to “ensure a stream of income to surviving spouses.”

This right of the surviving spouse is triggered regardless of when the assets were accrued or how long the pair has been married. There is an exception to the general rule. Plans are permitted to include a 1-year marriage rule whereby a surviving spouse must have been married to the plan participant for at least 1 year before they may claim a right to 401(k) assets, but, not all plans have adopted this exception.

Good news is a brew for New Jersey craft beer advocates. In February 2018, the New Jersey Assembly’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee paved the way for the introduction of Bill A2196, which would remove a current licensing rule requiring breweries and distilleries to provide a tour of their facilities before serving alcoholic beverages to consumers. Currently, breweries holding a New Jersey Limited Brewery License are prohibited from selling their brews at the brewery, unless patrons first complete a tour of the premises. This requirement applies to every customer, regardless of whether it is their first or fifteenth visit to a particular brewery, and failure to issue a tour can result in a hefty fine. If passed, Bill A2196 would be the latest step in a number of recent legislative changes aimed at easing New Jersey’s complex and stringent liquor laws.

New Jersey craft beer production has exploded over the past four years. As of February 2018, the New Jersey Craft Beer Association has identified ninety-eight breweries and brew pubs in the State of New Jersey, as well as twenty-four “startup” breweries in the process of obtaining licensing or permits. The growth of craft breweries in the State is in no small part due to a trend in Trenton towards loosening the State’s strict liquor laws by steadily expanding the rights for breweries with Limited Brewery Licensees.

Prior to 2013, breweries were limited to selling their products to licensed retailers and wholesalers. If a brewery was interested in establishing a tasting room, it would be required to obtain a special permit—issued by a different regulatory agency—that limited service to 4 oz. samples. Then, in December 2013, a noticeable shift in policy took hold when the Limited Brewery License was amended to consolidate these laws and permit the consumption of full-sized beers on the premises. The amendment permitted breweries to sell their brews on site for consumption, but only if such beverages were offered in connection with a brewery or distillery tour.

On March 3, 2017, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court upheld a Chancery Court’s determination requiring parties to participate in an investigation of contamination despite the fact that there was no evidence linking any of the parties to the contamination. Matejek v. Watson, et al., Dkt No. A-4683-14T1. In doing so, the appellate court employed principles of equity to expand potential liability under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:23.11 et seq. (the “Spill Act”). The Matejek decision, which seems inapposite to other Spill Act jurisprudence, greatly expands the reach of the Spill Act and would require parties to expend resources to investigate contamination even when there is no evidence of any nexus to that contamination.

The decision has its genesis in oil contamination discovered in a tributary located in the vicinity of a residential condominium development. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP” or the “Department”) responded to the threat by removing, at state expense, underground storage tanks from each of the adjoining five condominium units. Once the tanks had been removed, the Department determined that there was no further imminent threat to the tributary and terminated further work on the site. However, the Department never closed its administrative file and the site remained on the Department’s active list. Several years later, the owners of one of the condominium units sought to complete the investigation in order to remove what they deemed a cloud on title. They then brought an action against the other four condominium owners to compel them to equally participate in and complete the investigation (and, if necessary, the remediation).

The Chancery Court, after a bench trial, entered judgment requiring the parties to jointly retain a licensed site remediation professional to complete the investigation. The Court held that despite the fact that there was no evidence of the precise source of or responsibility for the contamination, the fact that the Department ordered the removal of all five tanks was enough to require that all of the impacted unit owners share in the steps necessary to further investigate the source of the contamination. More bewildering is the fact that the decision did not discuss or make any findings as to which of these five tanks had leaked or been involved in the discharge. Adjoining unit owners Carlos and Jean Gilmore appealed the Chancery Court’s determination arguing that the Spill Act didn’t require them to participate in a remediation absent evidence that they caused or contributed to the contamination.

Why in the aftermath of a chemical accident does the government seek enormous cash penalties for accident prevention, when instead they could do more to reap the benefits of improving the environment and the communities surrounding an incident, and at the same time the government could be more proactive in avoiding future environmental problems?

The EPA has provided the ideal vehicle to address the avoidance of environmental harm in the guise of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs).  A SEP is an environmentally beneficial project or activity that is not required by law, but that a defendant agrees to undertake as part of the settlement of an enforcement action.  A violator may pay a reduced cash penalty amount, but rather than simply writing a big check, they invest the would–be penalty amount in the affected community.  The SEP shifts the focus toward a model where the offender works to right the harm caused by their actions.   Environmental violators are encouraged to consider SEPs in communities where there are environmental justice (EJ) concerns.  EJ is defined as the equitable distribution of environmental risks and benefits.  EPA has always been keen to address harms done to communities disproportionally burdened by exposure to pollutants.

After a chemical accident, it makes logical sense to seek to repair the harm done to the community and to obtain measurable benefits ― by seeking to facilitate quicker and more efficient responses associated with emergency events; by seeking to provide technical support to the impacted community; by developing plans to respond to releases associated with emergency events and by working to enhance local coordination with emergency responders.  If using a SEP can be viewed as a vehicle designed to make an aggrieved community whole, and if a particular SEP can enable a community to feel better equipped to handle an impending disaster, then why shouldn’t a SEP be the premier mitigation tool in the enforcement arsenal, and the preferred tool to a large cash penalty.

In today’s society, it’s becoming increasingly common for our pets to be treated as part of the family…but what happens to your pet or pets upon your death when you are no longer there to care for them? In the eyes of the law, animals are considered property…so you can’t leave money directly to your pet. On January 19, 2016, the legislature passed the New Jersey Uniform Trust Code (NJUTC), which became effective as of July 17, 2016. As part of the NJUTC revisions, modifications were made to the rules regarding the creation and use of “Pet Trusts.”

Under the new law:

a. A trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime. The trust terminates upon the death of the animal or, if the trust was created to provide for the care of more than one animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime, upon the death of the last surviving animal.

New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act protects individuals in married, dating, cohabiting and co-parenting relationships from eighteen categories of criminal acts by their significant others, including harassment and coercion.  In C.G. v. E.G., an unpublished decision dated June 30, 2016, Judge Lawrence Jones, Superior Court of New Jersey, Ocean County, reiterated that domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse and can include acts of economic harassment and coercion.

In C.G. v. E.G., the plaintiff alleged that the defendant had threatened her in text messages, had called her workplace without her consent to bother her employer and her employer’s wife, and had embarrassed the plaintiff by alleging that she and the employer were having an affair.  The Court held that “economic harassment” includes purposeful acts of the defendant which are intended to either: (a) impair or obstruct a plaintiff’s actual or prospective job or job-related duties; or (b) threatening to do so with the purpose of controlling the plaintiff, and/or pressuring or intimidating the plaintiff into submitting to defendant’s demands or wishes.

Judge Jones opined that the methods of accomplishing economic harassment and coercion could include, but are not limited to:

You have a commitment from your Lender; certainly you should be able to close in one week, Right? Wrong. When closing a loan, there are many areas that can derail you from a timely closing. One area of particular concern and which often delays closing, is with respect to the Lender’s insurance requirements. To reduce discrepancies or issues leading up to closing, and to ensure that closing occurs as expeditiously as possible, it is important to understand the Lender’s insurance expectations and requirements at the outset; specifically, as set forth in the Lender’s commitment letter.

For commercial mortgage transactions, Lenders typically require a) property insurance on a “special form of loss” policy, previously referred to as an “all risk” policy, and b) commercial general liability insurance. For the property insurance, the lender will require the property to be insured at least in the amount of the loan and it will require a standard mortgage clause that names it as the mortgagee. Prudent lenders also typically require that the policy must be endorsed as “lender’s loss payable,” which gives the lender the right to receive the loss payment on a claim even if the insured has failed to comply with certain terms of the policy or because the loss was occasioned by the insured’s wrongful acts. The liability insurance policy should name the Lender as an additional insured and should waive all rights of subrogation against the mortgage lender. Often times, an insurance broker will claim that the lender has no insurable interest, and therefore cannot be added as an additional insured on the commercial general liability policy. The lender is concerned that if its borrower suffers an uninsured loss that is beyond its ability to absorb, the borrower’s continued viability is at stake. Furthermore, even though the likelihood of a claim against a mortgagee for injuries incurred at the mortgaged property is small, the lender wants to reduce its chance that its own insurance will be required to pay a claim that would be covered by the borrower’s required insurance. As an additional insured, the lender is entitled to the benefits of the policy but is not charged with the obligations of the named insured, moreover, the insurer cannot exercise subrogation rights against its own insured.

To prove you have the correct insurance in place, the Lender typically requires specific types of insurance proofs to be produced and approved prior to closing. In the past, certificates of insurance were provided to Lenders in the form of an ACORD 27 (for residential property) or ACORD 28 (for commercial property) as evidence of property insurance, and an ACORD 25, as evidence of commercial general liability insurance. In 2006, the ACORDs were revised to indicate that they do not grant any rights in coverage to the policy holder or to the mortgagee, additional insured, certificate holder, lender, etc. Essentially, these certificates are often prepared by insurance brokers as a summary of what coverage is purported to exist, but they do not prove that there is coverage under a particular policy and they do not grant coverage. This essentially makes these certificates or evidences of insurance ineffective in the risk management arena. They are merely for informational purposes only and their validity and accuracy cannot be verified without the underlying policy documents. As a result, many lenders now require, in addition to the ACORD forms, that as part of the normal due diligence process, a copy of the policy be produced and reviewed by the lender and the lender’s insurance advisor. In order to avoid delays, the ACORD forms and policy documents should be provided to the lender well in advance of closing so that the lender has sufficient time to process and review the insurance.

THE FOURTH QUARTER OF 2015 saw two striking pronouncements on criminal prosecutions and civil actions against individuals. The first, referred to unofficially as the “Yates Memo,” came in the form of new guidance to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and all United States attorneys on individual accountability. The second came in the form of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the DOJ and the Department of Labor (DOL). The MOU was designed to bolster the environmental side of worker safety violations, by scrutinizing environmental records.

Armed with two new tools, prosecutors are now equipped to examine violations involving worker safety using criminal environmental statutes. Thus, if the government accuses a company of worker safety violations, the company may expect a close analysis of their environmental record. The MOU itself is the next logical step of the DOJ’s strengthening its enforcement cases involving worker safety violations under environmental statutes. With the new understanding between the DOJ and the DOL, civil division attorneys are to share information with criminal division attorneys. Moreover, the MOU requires that criminal division attorneys explain to a supervisor why they did not seek charges against an individual company wrongdoer.

What circumstances brought about the new push?

On May 11, OSHA promulgated a new regulation imposing additional reporting requirements on employers. All non-exempted employers are already require to report information on work related illnesses and injuries to OSHA on paper forms, however, the new rule requires that certain submissions now be made electronically.

The newly promulgated regulation establishes three different categories of employers and imposes different electronic reporting requirements on each. Those non-exempted employers with 250 or more employees at an establishment must electronically submit certain information from the three reporting forms established by OSHA: 1) Form 300 – Log of Work Related Injuries and Illnesses; 2) Form 300A – Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses; and 3) Form 301 – Injury and Illness Incident Report.

Non-exempted employers with more than 20 employees, but less than 250 employees at an establishment, and who are engaged in a business designated in Appendix to the new rule, are required to electronically file information from Form 300A. Employers in this category include, among others, construction and manufacturing industries and many retail operations, such as department and furniture stores.

Lindabury Construction law attorney Chloe Mickel authored an article for the American Bar Association’s Forum on Construction Law which examined the beneficial uses unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”) can provide.

While drones are rapidly becoming more commonplace in both the consumer and business markets, the construction industry has been slow to integrate them into their day-to-day operations.   The benefits drone technology provides to those in the construction field include the faster completion of site surveys; the ability to monitor construction progress in real time and the capture of high quality, unique images for site marketing.

Read Chloe’s article, Despite Clear Benefits, the Construction Industry is Slow to Integrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles into Projects, which was published in the Spring 2016 edition of the Forum’s newsletter, Under Construction.

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