Local Forest Lake Businesses Embroiled In Litigation Over Alleged Fraud And Coercion

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Business litigation is not always “big” in nature. They say you’re not important or rich until you’ve been sued for millions, and they may be right. But there are thousands of small-time lawsuits each year between individuals and businesses who believe they have been wronged by others. That’s the case in Forest Lake, where two businesses are going head to head in court because of potential coercion, fraud, and defamation. And where did the allegations arise? Oh, that’s right: from Google reviews.

Review websites are a hotbed for false, slanderous, or libelous activity. What better place for someone to anonymously send in a poor review for a company they’re in competition with? 

And, in fact, Google is under suit too.

A judge issued a court order only a week ago, allowing Miller & Stevens Law to open up a case for their client, Ernie’s Empire. The plaintiffs asked to hire an outside party to investigate and gather data to send to Washington County authorities. The lawsuit was filed against Tel, Burrito & Burger Inc., another local business, and Google. It describes multiple counts of defamation.

Almost immediately, Tel opened up a countersuit. The counterclaim alleged coercion, breach of fiduciary duty, and defamation.

It remains unclear how these allegations will be proved in court, but Tel is accused of “leaving bad Google reviews from dummy accounts and calling the restaurant almost daily to make threatening statements,” according to Hometown Source.

The caller made statements such as “You’re going down” and “Go kill yourself.”

Ernst, the owner, said, “My employees dreaded getting the calls.”

Around the same time the calls began, there was a wave of negative Google reviews about Miller & Stevens, who were representing Tel. The reviews seemed to be driven by bots or fake accounts, and none had ever retained services for the law firm.

Ryan Howard wrote, “Ernst and Stevens said negative Google reviews have real consequences on their businesses. While it’s impossible to know how many people might not patronize a business based on reviews, both men said they’d heard first- and second-hand stories from people who had passed on or had second thoughts about either 3rd Gear or Miller & Stevens based on the ratings.”

Ernst said, “It’s unfortunate. Once you’re below four stars, people don’t even look at you.”

The alleged behavior led Ernst to file a restraining order against Tel.

The digital information gathered by the plaintiffs is sought because they believe it will showcase Tel’s digital footprints, implicating the company in an effort to discredit the other businesses and law firm. Without a court order, that information would be difficult if not impossible to obtain through the normal discovery process.

How Laws Are Evolving To Include Cannabis

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Recreational marijuana isn’t the only industry taking off — law firms are being forced to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape while legislatures around the country are being forced to implement new laws that are fair to everyone. These realities lead to a lot of new questions surrounding related substances like CBD oil, which isn’t quite regulated anywhere yet. Here are a couple that are in the process of being answered.

Recently, a couple was evicted from their Massachusetts apartment for smoking medical marijuana outdoors on their balcony. They quickly sought the advice of a drug crimes attorney to ask whether or not the landlord can legally evict them for using the substance legally (and outdoors). It was a big deal for them because they had lived there for about 26 years!

Francine Weinandy, one of the evicted, said, “No one deserves to have their home taken away from them because of pot.”

Evan Loeffler of Loeffler Law Group said, “This issue comes up quite regularly. I’ve represented a lot of residential landlords writing leases or dealing with tenants who either demand, insist, or deny the use of marijuana.” 

The argument is based on whether or not the lease allows them to smoke — whether the product is tobacco or marijuana should not matter. The landlord can legally evict someone for smoking indoors if the stipulation is built into the lease agreement. Normally, a lease might say you have to be a certain number of feet away from the building, for example. Landlords write these rules because smoke can result in expensive damage to a property. And that’s to say nothing of the smell.

Loeffler said, “[Smoke] gets in everything — it gets in the walls, ceiling, it gets in the drapes, carpets,” etc. 

Loeffler practices landlord-tenant law, but he has also rented out property himself. He says that the distinction between smoking and vaping is not often made in lease agreements, and that evicted residents should consult state laws to see whether or not the courts will likely side with them or the landlord in such cases.

The 2016 Florida amendment that mostly legalized medical marijuana in the state has also resulted in a number of quickly changing laws. Many of the new laws being implemented surround the idea of vertical integration, which forces companies who acquire medical marijuana licenses to conduct all facets of business instead of relying on outside businesses to split up the work. 

A licensed dealer in Florida must grow, process, and distribute the product themselves instead of outsourcing those tasks to anyone else. According to the legislation, to do otherwise might let the medical marijuana fall into the hands of those who wish to use it recreationally, which is still illegal. Many businesses have lost licenses over this issue.

What Do Non-Solicitation Agreements Mean In Florida?

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Business leaders often shift from one company to the next. It’s not entirely uncommon for those leaders to poach clients from an old company so they can bring them to the new one, either. Perhaps you’ve seen the phenomenon portrayed on shows like The Good Wife. TV is one thing. Reality is another. This one-time standard practice is now sometimes illegal due to contractual obligations. But enforceable? 

Not always.

Those who have jobs in retail will understand what we’re talking about. Most hourly employers have contracts wherein specific “arbitration” clauses prohibit lawsuits that arise because of a disagreement with an employer. Instead, a legally binding outcome is decided upon by a third-party. That saves employers a lot of money on legal fees and courtroom battles even when they lose to arbitration.

Non-solicitation agreements are similarly binding. “Solicitation” means that one person has a left a company for another, during which time this person actively approaches clients from the old company in an effort to gain business for the new one. Non-solicitation agreements are part of many employment contracts in order to eliminate or reduce this kind of behavior. 

Non-solicitation agreements also limit how an old employee can gain access to or use information obtained from the old post. 

One Florida statute legalizes these agreements:  “(1) Notwithstanding s. 542.18 and subsection (2), enforcement of contracts that restrict or prohibit competition during or after the term of restrictive covenants, so long as such contracts are reasonable in time, area, and line of business, is not prohibited.”

The statutes basically stipulate that these agreements must not be overly restrictive or unclear, and they must have a valid commercial purpose.

But one obvious question is this: How binding are these non-solicitation agreements? What are the consequences for blatantly breaking one, if any?

Many non-solicitation agreements are too broad in order to enforce. If you want your firm’s agreement to be enforceable under the law, then it needs to be extremely narrow in how it targets the behavior. Most successful agreements are made dependent on the type of business they protect. Others are often dismissed by the time they reach court.  This was the result of a lawsuit seeking to prevent a former NuVasive employee from stealing clients. 

Former employee Christopher LeDuff had been poaching former clients to take with him to Alphatec Spine, one of NuVasive’s competitors. The non-solicitation agreement that bound Christopher LeDuff from this behavior failed to compel Judge Sheri Polster Chappell that NuVasive’s business interests required the protections formalized in the agreement, and so the case was dismissed.

NuVasive will likely appeal. Today is the deadline for both parties to do so.

Virginia ABC Laws To Change July 1, 2020

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Before the new ABC legislation proposals were signed into law, Virginia had relatively strict guidelines concerning the sale and advertisement of alcoholic beverages. The new legislation will change twelve existing laws to make it easier for alcohol markets to turn a bigger profit. ABC laws are enacted in “alcoholic beverage control” states to give state governments a monopoly over the sales of some categories of alcoholic beverages.

Here are some of the new Virginia laws:

HB 2634 and SB 1110 provided a referendum on the sale of mixed beverages by Virginia ABC stores. These stores and restaurants will now be allowed to sell mixed alcoholic beverages in countries whose qualified voters decide not to petition the local circuit court to prevent the law from being enacted locally. 

SB 1727 will prohibit the sale of all nicotine products to adults and young adults under the age of 21, unless an active duty military ID is shown at the time of purchase, in which case the restriction remains cemented at age 18.

HB 1887 requires all Virginia ABC stores to post a sign containing information about human trafficking prevention and assistance.

HB 1960 allows both ABC stores and licensed alcohol distillers located in or out of the Virginia commonwealth to produce and sell low-alcohol beverage coolers. Alcohol must contain at least .5 percent alcohol but no more than 7.5 percent.

SB 1171 allows certain industries to obtain a temporary and local special events license so that alcohol may be sold where alcohol is otherwise not sold — but only during a local “special event.” Residents may loiter with beverages in hand or move around to local businesses. These special events are limited to 12 per year.

SB 1420 allows bespoke establishments to obtain a license allowing them to provide complimentary glasses of wine or beer (up to two) for a visiting member. Fees cannot be charged for these drinks.

HB 1657 allows any multipurpose theater in Bridgewater, Virginia to sell alcoholic beverages to patrons so long as the theater is owned by the government and has a total functioning capacity of over 100 people.

HB 1770 and SB 1668 changes the Sunday hours for opening an ABC establishment from noon to 10 a.m.

HB 2073 and SB 1726 allows retail establishments with ABC licenses to advertises for happy hour events in addition to normal beverage prices.

What Is Government Contracts Law? Do I Need A Government Contracts Attorney?

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The United States of America has some of the most convoluted and complicated regulation practices in the world, which is just one of the reasons why starting a new business is such a difficult task. New companies must immediately comply with literally thousands of rules and procedures to stay up and running without legal trouble. The bigger a business grows, the more complicated it gets.

Government contracts law is the umbrella that hangs over all those rules and regulations for businesses that buy or sell to the U.S. government.

A government contracts attorney is one of the first steps new business owners should take, because they can help ensure that all relevant laws are being followed. It might seem like a money-saving venture to do it alone, but mistakes are easy to make when there are so many relevant legal codes that cannot be broken.

Not only that, but the regulations in question are always evolving — with every new municipal, state or federal election, laws are changed or new ones are added. The result is a nightmare for business owners (and pretty much everyone else, but that’s another story).

Here are a few legal terms you should know before deciding if your business requires the services of a government contracts attorney.

Appropriation expenditures are those made for government accounting purposes. These expenditures usually occur at set intervals, and the dollar amount usually won’t change during a contract.

Bid protests occur when a contract may or may not violate laws. One business will dispute another business’s claim by making a bid protest.

The General Accounting Office (or GAO) will perform all accounting or auditing claims for government programs. 

Federal Acquisitions Regulations (or FARs) are the set of rules that determine what the government will or won’t buy, including both products and services. FARs give businesses a decent idea of what they can sell and for how much.

If a business owner decides to take on a government contract, he or she should keep in mind that it is a serious decision and that there’s no wiggle room for making mistakes either small or large. It’s also important to know that the rules for how and what a business owner sells and for how much are all written by those to whom you’re selling: i.e. the government. That means the government will probably end up with the better end of the deal.

Even so, many businesses do very well for themselves by keeping the government as a buyer — because, let’s face it, the government is a reliable buyer. Once a business is in, it’s in.

Amazon In Hot Water Over California Alcoholic Beverage Control Law Enforcement

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Did you know that Amazon has a liquor license? Many people probably don’t, but it should come as no surprise to those of us who are paying attention to the way in which alcohol distribution and sales are changing. Many alcohol sales are conducted online these days, which means the potential for underage law-breaking and other deviant behavior has only increased. What is Amazon doing to ensure that its warehouses comply with alcoholic beverage control (ABC) laws in California? Apparently not much.

Amazon has been previously granted seven similar liquor licenses so that it may conduct business at brick-and-mortar locations directly adjacent to several of the company’s warehouses. Why would Amazon bother to sell wine and spirits at a physical location when the company is so successful in online sales?

The answer is simple: to deliver wine and spirits in California, the law requires that you have a brick-and-mortar location as well.

Many opponents of Amazon’s “stores” contend that these laws were designed to prevent a gargantuan company like Amazon from dominating the wine and spirits industry, and that Amazon isn’t really serious about selling at these physical locations — in fact, it’s all just an attempt to circumvent the California law. For now, the loophole seems to be working just fine for Amazon.

Undercover consumers quickly discovered the limits to supply at Amazon’s physical locations. Only a few bottles of wine were available at most of them, and one would be lucky to find any spirits at all.

Why should this make traditional store owners angry?

Because Amazon sells hundreds and hundreds and wines online — all of which are available for quick delivery via Prime Now. 

One of Amazon’s warehouse “stores” is located in Sacramento, but you won’t find much for sale there. On the other hand, you can get online in the very same zip code as the store and be treated to lightning-fast delivery of approximately 230 wines. Looking for something a little bit stronger? Fear not: you can also purchase a whopping 82 brands of whisky. The numbers are similar in Sunnyvale: 220 wines and 70 brands of whisky. 

Don’t forget that Amazon also controls Whole Foods and Sousa’s Wine Beer Spirits, and so has other avenues of selling as well. 

Asked about the small offerings at its warehouse store locations, an Amazon official commented: “We are not required to offer the full selection for sale in person. We are in compliance with the law.”
In other words, Amazon isn’t exactly playing coy about trying to do the bare minimum in order to remain in compliance. The online retailer doesn’t really want to sell alcohol to you in person — it wants you to tap a few keys online and deliver it directly to your door. Will California do anything to change this behavior in the future? Time will tell.

4 Start Up Mistakes That New Entrepreneurs Should Avoid

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Many people have a great idea and hope to turn it into a viable business. What many people don’t know is how to build a sustainable business. Most small businesses fail within the first five years simply because they make mistakes when getting things off the ground. Here a few common mistakes that new business owners and entrepreneurs should avoid when trying to make their dream into a reality.

Underestimating Start-Up Costs 

To have a successful business, one needs to have the correct supply and demand. They need to have cash available to manufacture, market, distribute and then pay all the people who helped make that happen. A lot of times, many new business owners start a new business because they are in need of cash – rather than having extra on hand. This sense of urgency for cash is what causes a lot of businesses to fail. In order to give your new company the best chance of launching and staying afloat is to have enough money in savings to pay your household bill for at least six months as a cushion.

No Marketing Strategy 

You know you exist but does anyone else in the world exist? With so many different types of advertising and media options to select from, researching what will be the most effective for your new business venture cannot be ignored. Before you open your new business, a full marketing plan should be fleshed out and be ready to be implemented. This is why many people under-estimate start-up costs because properly marketing your new business is not cheap.

Spending Too Quickly 

If you are fortunate enough to have an investor (whether it’s a bank or friend or relative), there is no reason to spend all of that money immediately when getting your business off the ground. My mother always told me to save half, spend half. The stuff you save can help you if you are in a jam with cash flow until profits start rolling in. If you spend it all immediately and there are no profits, you will be in a tough situation.

Being A Lone Wolf 

It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to help get a business off the ground. Having a group of people that you trust to help make decisions on where to spend money and how to market your business will take all of this burden off of you. While this is still your company, your idea, your baby, etc having guidance from other successful entrepreneurs and professionals will help make sure you don’t close within the first five years.

These Are The Laws You Need To Know About When Starting A New Business

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Starting your own business isn’t easy. Not only do you need a plan that stands a good chance of working, but you might also need to find investors who believe in that plan. You’ll undoubtedly need to read and learn about all the laws associated with the industry and business in which you hope to join, and it’s a time-consuming process to say the least.

So what are the laws you most need to know about when starting a business? Here are the legal requirements every entrepreneur should know about!

  1. First, you’ll need a name. That much is obvious, but you’ll also need to register the name with state and local governments. Be careful, because this doesn’t provide any legal trademark protection for your brand–you’ll have to do that on your own when the time is right. If you don’t complete this step, then your legal name will be automatically used.
  2. Don’t forget to pay Uncle Sam! You’ll need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (or EIN) in order to identify your new business to the IRS. Individuals have social security numbers. Businesses have EINs.
  3. Research state and local tax regulations for your business. If you will have employees working under you, then this is even more crucial because you’ll be required to contribute to the state unemployment pool.
  4. Determine whether or not you need to be licensed or certified in order to perform any functions of the jobs or business you’re creating. If you know you need a state or local license, be sure to check to see whether or not that business is also regulated at the federal level. If it is, you’ll need to be certified there as well.
  5. Small businesses and corporate empires must abide by almost all the same laws. You’ll need to know all about the laws that regulate how you can advertise and market, or finance your new business. You’ll also need to know about laws that regulate intellectual property (or IP) and privacy in order to protect yourself and your business from those who might be interested in stealing some part in it, or otherwise taking advantage or your newfound success.

    You may also be required to file reports or forms with agencies governing your industry, so make sure to perform the necessary checks now in order to avoid a headache later!

How Does Blockchain Regulation Affect Business Law?

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If you don’t know what blockchain is, then it’s probably about time you find out. With this form of digital information distribution and replication becoming more important to the digitally decentralized currency that is Bitcoin, we’re only now starting to learn about the potential for other uses.
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The Different Branches of Commercial Law

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Commercial law and business law each refer to the same category of law, and fall underneath an umbrella that includes many other branches–some large, some small. Commercial law can be civil, private, or public depending on the business or issues at hand. The laws govern how businesses are run and how they interact with other organizations. They function to limit the illegal activity or unlawful consequences that result from common business practices both at home and abroad.
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