Monday, March 23, 2020

Online Dispute Resolution - Here to Stay?

With the Coronavirus crisis severely curtailing the practice of law in courthouses across the country, many are turning to settling cases using readily available technology. Mediations have been conducted by Zoom, GoToMeeting and Skype, as well as telephone and text. There is no barrier to attending using off-the-shelf equipment and simple apps available for download. Though we have utilized these methods before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was usually due to the unavailability of a party in person and to enable remote attendance at a mediation conference. Because trial dockets across the country are now in disarray, mediation of pending cases provides the soonest means of self-determining an outcome to cases. Online Dispute Resolution or ODR solutions can be accessed from the comfort of your couch-- talk about social distancing! As with traditional mediation, online mediation allows the mediator to adapt the process to address the particular needs of parties. Caucuses are still possible, ensuring confidentiality and candor in negotiation. As these participants can attend from their businesses or homes, there are reduced costs and less time expended overall in convening the process. Access problems are no longer an issue with the use of cell phone applications widely available for devices of all stripes with the most popular communication platforms in the marketplace. Some will say there are disadvantages to not being in person, such as the ability to read the room or to poke your head into a caucus for a "Would you, could you?" Of course, there is a 3,000 year tradition of face-to-face mediation, but that doesn't mean ODR cannot be effectively employed in many types of cases. Whether a settlement is reached or not, much is still learned by parties and counsel through the exercise. We shall see what the future of this uncertain time holds and it will eventually pass, but it is likely ODR will be adopted by many a dispute resolver and their clients. Stay healthy out there!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Order Curtails Courts in Florida, So Mediate!

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida today ordered most in person legal proceedings in the state courts be suspended for a minimum of two weeks due to the COVID-19 virus. The order takes effect Monday. Local judges will use remote electronic means of conducting legal proceedings whenever possible. The order will be extended or modified as needed in the future and is subject to existing constitutional requirements. Under Florida's Constitution, the Chief Justice is the chief administrative officer of the state court system and can issue orders with statewide effect. This is the first time a limit on face-to-face proceedings has been ordered since Florida’s state courts system was unified by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1972. The court found these measures are needed because a public health emergency exists, requiring social distancing to reduce transmission of the Coronavirus which is now a pandemic. The order is designed to slow the spread of infectious disease by eliminating gatherings of the public such as jury duty and trials. However, mediation remains available to litigants in the absence of court proceedings and can be conducted by remote attendance or online dispute resolution (ODR), which my firm offers. We expect the business of dispute resolution will go on with the help of technology, allowing attendees the opportunity to participate without spreading infection. See more on our ODR options here-- https://tinyurl.com/twd4nl4 and the court's full order here-- https://tinyurl.com/wrt7hug

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

ADR Rules & Policy Vacancies

The Supreme Court of Florida's Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Rules and Policy needs members. This is a powerful committee that recommends changes to existing rules and implements new ones via proposals submitted for oral argument following public comment. The Florida Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) is currently accepting applications for eight member appointments to the Committee on ADR Rules and Policy. Appointments are made by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida based upon competence, specialized knowledge, experience in ADR processes, and a commitment to the time necessary to be an active contributor to the committee’s work. The committee consists of 17 volunteer members and may include mediation trainers, Florida Supreme Court certified mediators, arbitrators, trial court administrators, parenting coordinators, attorneys, and judges. Generally, members are appointed for staggered three-year terms. However, these terms will begin July 1, 2020, and end November 30, 2023. No member shall serve more than nine years. According to the official announcement, the committee provides the Florida Supreme Court with recommendations relating to ADR legislation, and all aspects of ADR policy and rules including, but not limited to, model ADR practices, mediator certification and renewal requirements, continuing education requirements, and mediation training program requirements. Letters of interest and current résumés may be submitted on or before April 10, 2020, to: Florida Dispute Resolution Center, Supreme Court Building, 500 S. Duval Street Tallahassee, Florida 32399 or fax (850) 922-9290 or DRCmail@flcourts.org See link here-- https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Alternative-Dispute-Resolution

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Dash for Arbitration

DoorDash delivery workers filed thousands of individual claims at once as initial fees approach $12 million for the company. Under District Judge William Alsup’s order this week in Abernathy v. DoorDash pending in the Northern District of California, DoorDash must arbitrate over 5,000 individual disputes with various workers who claim that they were misclassified as independent contractors, when they should be treated as employees. It also must pay a $1,900 fee for each of these individual arbitration proceedings. As with other gig economy platforms, DoorDash includes an arbitration agreement in its contracts with couriers, who deliver food orders. But after facing a flood of claims, DoorDash balked at the costs of going into arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association (AAA) where couriers themselves paid more than $1.2 million in filing fees. After Uber imposed arbitration and a class action ban, more than 60,000 of those drivers sought to arbitrate claims against the company. Faced with legal costs of at least $600 million, Uber settled the a majority of these claims last spring. Could the same happen in this case? Another California federal judge similarly compelled arbitration in a case with thousands of claims against Postmates, asking the attorneys to explain how the company’s refusal to pay arbitration fees didn’t amount to contempt. A ruling is pending on that issue. DoorDash had asked to suspend the court proceedings until the approval of a settlement could be reached in a separate class-action case, given the potential for overlap. The company reportedly stands ready and willing to defend legitimate arbitration demands, but maintains it should only be responsible for arbitrating legitimate claims. See more here-- https://bit.ly/39uUehT and https://bit.ly/38qRDWa and https://bit.ly/2OSRQcW

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

ADR Section Member Survey Due 1/23

The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Section of The Florida Bar wants to maximize its services and resources for members. As such, I was tasked along with our Executive Council to create a survey in order to take the pulse of our almost one thousand member section a decade into its existence. For those who already belong to the section, you should have received an email from our chair containing the individualized invitation link to take the survey. Please complete this information by January 23, 2020. If you are not a member of the ADR Section, but belong to the Florida Bar, please consider joining now or upon your bar dues renewal this summer. The ADR Section provides a forum for lawyers interested in alternative dispute resolution and for discussion and exchange of ideas leading to an improvement of individual ADR skills and abilities. The ADR Section keeps its Florida Bar membership informed and updated regarding legislation, rules and policies in connection with mediation, arbitration and other ADR processes. We also provide quality continuing legal education programs (CLE/CME). The ADR Section also acts as an advocate for attorney mediators in dealing with the Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) and Florida Supreme Court rule changes proposed by the ADR Rules & Policy committee of the court. See more here-- https://bit.ly/36SNAkK and https://bit.ly/2tkQ1Ow

Friday, January 10, 2020

Judge Blocks CA Arb Ban

Today, there's a hearing on a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the State of California where a federal district judge is blocking implementation of the state’s new ban on arbitration of cases involving sexual harassment. The court will hear a request by the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups for a preliminary injunction. This is a big test that will have national impact. The ban was signed into law in October 2019. It prohibits California employers from requiring employees to waive any right to or opt out of any legal forum or procedure established by the California Fair Employment or Labor Code. The new law applies to contracts for employment entered into, modified or extended on or after January 1, 2020-- the effective date of the new law. If an employer violates the act by forcing arbitration, they would commit a misdemeanor. The National Retail Federation filed suit in federal court seeking to prevent the law from going into effect by arguing the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and recent U.S. Supreme Court cases created a federal policy of using arbitration as a legitimate alternative to court litigation. Further, the FAA preempts state law to the contrary. A final ruling regarding primacy of the FAA over state law will serve as a bellwether on employer use of arbitration and may thwart other states from passing similar laws. See more here-- https://bit.ly/2R1oWrz and https://bit.ly/2RafHWa UPDATE: Following oral argument during which recent SCOTUS cases involving the FAA such as Epic Systems and Kindred Nursing were cited, the court requested supplemental briefing regarding the state's suggestion that the court lacks jurisdiction. The TRO will remain in effect until January 31, 2020.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Florida Loses Water Wars

After rejecting a now deceased Special Master's ruling in favor of Florida and remanding to a new Special Master to make further findings regarding Florida's claim it suffered harm from the overconsumption of water by Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court this week received a recommendation not to grant Florida’s request for a decree equitably apportioning the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. The Special Master found the evidence did not show harm to Florida caused by Georgia and that Georgia’s water use is reasonable. Additionally, the evidence did not show that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms. Florida asked for oral argument that took place last month, where it asserted the first Special Master found that Georgia’s upstream water use was unreasonable and that the Supreme Court already rejected an additional finding that nothing could be done because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which manages the reservoirs in the river system) is not a party to the case. Florida sought a cap on consumption that would alleviate past damage allegedly caused by Georgia. Georgia maintained any limits on its water use would undermine its economy, including the growth of the Atlanta area and the state’s agriculture industry. Florida wanted to limit Georgia’s water consumption from the basin, including Lake Lanier, to 1992 levels and to get reparations for alleged economic and environmental harm to Apalachicola's oyster fisheries from drought. Georgia claimed Florida failed to prove harm to aquatic species. This blog has followed the Water Wars for years in several other entries and it now appears this will be the ultimate conclusion in this case of original jurisdiction, absent further action and a presumed adoption of findings by SCOTUS. See more in very detailed report here-- https://bit.ly/2PhTcP5