Friday, August 10, 2018

SCOTUS Subs Special Master in Water Wars

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court suddenly substituted a court-appointed Special Master after recently rejecting his ruling recommending Florida had not proven its case “by clear and convincing evidence” that imposing a cap on Georgia’s water use would benefit Florida water systems and remanding because he “applied too strict a standard” in rejecting Florida’s claim. The rejected recommended ruling in the decades-long Water Wars case favored Georgia and was just sent back to Special Master, Ralph I. Lancaster, Jr., of Maine who presided over and tried the original jurisdiction case back in 2016. Now, the Court has discharged him, swapping for Special Master Honorable Paul J. Kelly, Jr., a Senior Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit from New Mexico, to make further findings regarding Florida's claim it suffered harm from the overconsumption of water by Georgia. Florida still seeks the cap on consumption that would alleviate past damage allegedly caused by Georgia. Traditionally, states as parties pay legal fees of lawyers acting as special masters, though reportedly the high court foots the bill for some administrative and clerical costs. According to the court’s docket, the 88-year-old Lancaster was paid almost a half-million dollars between 2014 and 2017. By contrast, senior judges who become special masters are on the government payroll, relieving the states of having to pay special masters’ fees. Future proceedings will weigh Georgia’s claims that any limits on its water use would undermine its economy, including the growth of the Atlanta area and the state’s agriculture industry in southwestern Georgia. This blog has followed the Water Wars for years in other entries. Florida ultimately seeks to limit Georgia’s water consumption from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, including Lake Lanier, to 1992 levels and to get reparations for alleged economic and environmental harm to Apalachicola's oyster fisheries from drought. See news story here-- https://bit.ly/2vBQeKZ and SCOTUS Order here-- https://bit.ly/2B6Q9nI

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

New WIPO ADR Guide for IP Cases

The Arbitration and Mediation Center (AMC) of WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, just released an updated guide providing an overview of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes for intellectual property disputes. Since intellectual property portfolios became an essential part of business value, businesses started looking at more efficient methods to settle disputes than litigation. WIPO's AMC was created almost 25 years ago, recognizing a growing ADR trend where international parties informally gathered to settle disputes without litigation. The new WIPO guide is designed to provide an overview of ADR processes without purporting in any way to be authoritative or prescriptive. Chapter One of the guide offers background information concerning the early use and rise of ADR around the world, followed in Chapter Two by a description of potential advantages of ADR for intellectual property disputes. Chapter Three explains in more detail the different ADR procedures that may be used in intellectual property disputes, while Chapter Four outlines some practical considerations that may be relevant for IPOs and courts that wish to institutionalize such ADR procedures. For the substantive and procedural implementation of such procedures, the guide identifies as a core element the interface with existing regulations. The guide reminds litigants that ADR processes can deliver outcomes that provide a certain and conclusive resolution to disputes. This finality is a clear advantage for ADR, as the complexities of intellectual property litigation can make outcomes uncertain. Legal judgments can be overturned on appeal and jurors that often lack technical expertise may make incorrect decisions. See more here-- https://bit.ly/2vpuocT

Sunday, July 22, 2018

No More Business Court? Use a Special Magistrate!

This month in Orange County, we saw the demise of the state's first "Business Court" due to lack of adequate funding from the state legislature which allocates less than one percent of Florida's budget to the judiciary. Known as the Complex Business Litigation Division of Circuit-Civil, this specialized court helped determine thousands of cases in its 15 year history through the use of its own rules and active case management by its presiding judges. Mediators with commercial experience also helped dispose of many a case upon referral. Now that these cases have been reassigned to the General Civil Division, they will likely have to wait to be decided among thousands more general cases already on those dockets. Ninth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Fred Lauten spoke on this at our recent Orange County Bar Association Judicial Relations Committee meeting and is in the midst of a public relations campaign to encourage citizens to ask their elected officials to secure more funding next session. Judge Lauten has commented that "with a growing population and a base constituency of 1.7 million people, the Ninth Judicial Circuit has been operating at maximum effort with minimum resources for years. Despite a caseload that has qualified the circuit for additional judges every year since 2006, no new judgeships have been allocated. While an ever expanding workload coupled with chronically insufficient resources would spell a reduction in services for most agencies and businesses-- the judiciary is not afforded that option, nor should it be." As such, the business judges were moved to the fill a bigger need in the growing Family Division. Still, there remains an option to litigants to have their cases heard before a skilled neutral or Special Magistrate, by consent. Special Magistrates in state court (formerly known as Special Masters which they are still called in federal court) can timely assist burdened trial judges in the disposition of complex cases. Carefully drafted orders of referral under Rule 1.490 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure that anticipate the scope of issues to be decided, such as discovery disputes, can do much to make the utilization of Special Magistrates effective and cost-efficient. Having served the Circuit-Civil Division in culling cases during 2013 as a General Magistrate, I recently offered to serve as a hired Special Magistrate where parties so desire. See more in newspaper opinion piece here-- https://bit.ly/2mykykR

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

HOA Presuit Mediation in FLA

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of negotiating a resolution to a beachfront homeowner's association (HOA) dispute in presuit mediation. Because this process is statutory, I thought it a good idea to remind everyone of the contents of Section 720.311, Florida Statutes. A mediator is authorized to conduct mediation or arbitration under this section only if he or she has been certified as a circuit court civil mediator by the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Legislature, finding that alternative dispute resolution reduces court dockets and trials and offers a more efficient, cost-effective option to litigation, created this mechanism for HOAs. Importantly, the filing of any petition or the serving of a demand for presuit mediation as provided for in this section tolls the applicable statute of limitations. Note that neither election disputes nor recall disputes are eligible for presuit mediation, as those are arbitrated under another process. Disputes between an association and a parcel owner regarding use of or changes to the parcel or the common areas and other covenant enforcement disputes, disputes regarding amendments to the association documents, disputes regarding meetings of the board and committees appointed by the board, membership meetings not including election meetings, and access to the official records of the association are subject to a of a demand for presuit mediation served by an aggrieved party before the dispute is filed in court. Presuit mediation proceedings must be conducted in accordance with the applicable Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, and these proceedings are privileged and confidential to the same extent as court-ordered mediation under Chapter 44, Florida Statutes. Disputes subject to presuit mediation under Chapter 720 do not include the collection of any assessment, fine, or other financial obligation, including attorney’s fees and costs, claimed to be due or any action to enforce a prior mediation settlement agreement between the parties. Also, in any dispute subject to presuit mediation under this section where emergency relief is required, a motion for temporary injunctive relief may be filed with the court without first complying with the presuit mediation requirements of this section. After any issues regarding emergency or temporary relief are resolved, a court may either refer the parties to a mediation program administered by the courts or require mediation under this section. An arbitrator or judge may not consider any information or evidence arising from the presuit mediation proceeding except in a proceeding to impose sanctions for failure to attend a presuit mediation session or to enforce a mediated settlement agreement. Persons who are not parties to the dispute may not attend the presuit mediation conference without the consent of all parties, except for counsel for the parties and a corporate representative designated by the association. The statute also provides approved forms for use in the demand and response. See complete statutory language here-- https://bit.ly/2FXkhj1

Friday, June 29, 2018

Finding for FL, SCOTUS Sends Water Wars back to Special Master

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court found in favor of Florida in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Breyer on exceptions filed to a 2017 recommendation by a court-appointed Special Master ruling Florida had not proven its case “by clear and convincing evidence” that imposing a cap on Georgia’s water use would benefit Florida water systems, including oyster-rich Apalachicola Bay and had “applied too strict a standard” in rejecting Florida’s claim. The rejected recommended ruling in the decades-long "Water Wars" case favored Georgia and must now go back to Special Master, Ralph I. Lancaster, Jr., oddly enough a Maine lawyer appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee a claim Florida filed in 2013, on remand. The dispute focuses on the river basin which drains almost 20,000 square miles in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers meet at the Georgia-Florida border to form the Apalachicola, which flows into the bay and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. Attorneys for Florida and Georgia appeared for oral argument earlier this year in this original jurisdiction case previously tried before the Special Master back in 2016. The Court reserved judgment as to the ultimate disposition of this case, addressing here only the narrow “threshold” question of whether an “equity-based cap” on Georgia’s water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system would increase the water flow into the Apalachicola River and whether the amount of that extra water would “significantly redress the economic and ecological harm that Florida has suffered." The Special Master could also make further findings that Florida suffered harm from the overconsumption of water by Georgia. Florida still seeks the cap on consumption that would alleviate past damage allegedly caused by Georgia. Future proceedings will weigh Georgia’s claims that any limits on its water use would undermine its economy, including the growth of the Atlanta area and the state’s agriculture industry in southwestern Georgia. Florida ultimately seeks to limit Georgia’s water consumption from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, including Lake Lanier, to 1992 levels and to get reparations for alleged economic and environmental harm to Apalachicola's oyster fisheries from drought. See story here-- https://bit.ly/2Najjo5 and opinion here-- https://bit.ly/2yJVrod

Monday, June 25, 2018

Join me next month for Arbitration Backlash

The Cardozo Legal Society has invited me to speak next month at its breakfast meeting in downtown Orlando at the law firm of BakerHostetler. This one-hour general credit CLE will take place July 12th at 8:00 am in the SunTrust Center located at 200 South Orange Avenue. The U.S. Supreme Court just issued another decision upholding contracts to arbitrate rather than litigate disputes. Arbitration, however, continues to be attacked by media and elected officials despite being an effective ADR method to resolve disputes and control the rising cost of trying lawsuits. Federal law supports and governs the practice through the Federal Arbitration Act. To be enforceable, a clause must provide a meaningful opportunity for redress, and courts review contractual provisions for fundamental fairness. Because the litigation system has become so expensive, arbitration is often the preferred forum for disputes involving amounts in controversy for which litigation of claims is uneconomical. My talk explores the recent backlash against arbitration and reminds attendees of the origins and benefits of this dispute resolution process. The content is designed for lawyers who represent clients in arbitration and for attorneys who use arbitration clauses in contracts. I am a past chair of Cardozo Legal Society and former executive board member of our local non-profit federation, JFGO. Cardozo is a Business & Professional Society that offers attorneys, judges, law students and professors, and those in related roles in the legal profession an opportunity to get involved with the community while creating long lasting relationships with colleagues. See registration link here-- https://bit.ly/2KnWHlt

Saturday, June 16, 2018

How to Become a Mediator

Though a forthcoming rules amendment case in The Supreme Court of Florida will likely be decided this year concerning whether certification is required of all mediators in court-filed cases in civil and family courts, certified mediators are currently the only ones subject to ethical rules and other regulations. In order to become certified as a mediator in Florida, there are stringent criteria and training required which is outlined in the link below. I am often asked about this and so the complete information can be found in this convenient publication of the Florida Dispute Resolution Center (DRC). When I became certified in 2001, you had to be a lawyer for five years, just like a judge. Observing mediations is still required and I fulfill my obligation to the profession by providing these opportunities. For each observation required for certification, a trainee must observe an entire session of the type of mediation for which certification is sought, conducted by a certified mediator of the type for which certification is sought. We fill out a form for the observer with the case style, our signature and mediator number. The observation requirement can't be satisfied by any individual who is a party, participant, or representative in the mediation. Candidates for certification may not fulfill the observations before beginning a certified mediation training program. As I'm often asked about whether appellate or pre-suit mediations count, if the case is that which is or would have been the type of mediation for which certification is sought, it may be utilized for observation purposes. Likewise, a federal court mediation conducted by a certified circuit mediator may be utilized to fulfill a circuit mentorship, even though our federal district has its own certification. However, administrative agency mediations conducted under rules and procedures other than that of the state trial courts may not be utilized to fulfill the mentorship requirements. See DRC publication detailing certification process here-- https://bit.ly/2JR4vsi and a link to DRC's annual conference next month in Orlando,"Promoting Mediator Professionalism," here-- https://bit.ly/2tfuJxA