Small Business Break-Ups – The High Cost of Litigating a Forced Separation

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

A recent Virginia Supreme Court Case, Cattano v. Bragg, illustrates two points we have made time and time again: 1) Make sure your small business is prepared for an eventual “divorce” between the shareholders; and 2) Litigation is very, very expensive.

In this blog post we will review the Supreme Court’s decision and provide some tips for your small business so that you can avoid the calamity that occurred in this case, which included an attorneys’ fee award of over $260,000 for the prevailing party.

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation | No Comments

We have written on the issues that arise when employees use their work computer for personal business. In that blog article, we referred to a California case in which an appellate court ruled that an employee’s emails to her attorney were not protected by the attorney-client privilege because the company had a written policy that informed employees that computers were not to be used for personal matters, that emails could be monitored to ensure that employees complied with the policy, and that employees should not expect any privacy in the use of their computers.

In local news, former Delegate Phil Hamilton raised a “marital privilege” objection to the use at trial of emails he sent to his wife. Certain communications to and from a spouse can be protected from disclosure. There were complicating factors to this case’s analysis.

 

Email

 

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Zoning and “Adaptive Reuse” – What does that actually mean?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, Land Use Planning, Real Estate Strategies, Zoning | No Comments
Our Summer Associate for 2012 is Scott Foster, a rising second-year law student at the William & Mary Law School. Weeks before his undergraduate graduation from William & Mary, Scott became the first person ever elected to the Williamsburg City Council, while still a William & Mary studentScott still serves on the City Council while attending law school and working for us. This blog post is Scott’s first for our firm.

While growing up in western Virginia, one of my favorite restaurants was in a converted train depot. On several occasions my parents walked me through the tobacco warehouses in Farmville, Virginia filled with fine furniture and rugs. There was even a bed and breakfast nearby with rooms in a grain silo. Although I did not realize it at the time, these businesses were examples of “adaptive reuse.”

DOG Street Pub, the former SunTrust Bank

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Oral Contracts are enforceable, but . . . .

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Many times, parties enter into informal loan agreements on a simple oral promise to “pay it back.”  Similarly, others will enter into oral agreements to perform residential construction projects, or other types of projects. When things do not go as expected and the promises are of a value worth litigating over (or one of the parties to the promise thinks they are) things can go swiftly downhill.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Contracts

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the past 15 years or so, “arbitration” provisions have appeared with increasing frequency in a wide variety of contracts. For example, declarations of covenants and restrictions recorded for homeowners associations, construction contracts, employment contracts, and commercial leases all may contain arbitration clauses. Arbitration may be a good idea, but you should know what “arbitration” means before you agree to be bound by such a provision.

Many people confuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration.” Mediation refers to a process whereby a third-party helps facilitate a negotiated settlement between two or more parties. A mediator does not make decisions, does not take evidence, and does not conduct hearings. Parties simply negotiate and the mediator helps foster those negotiations.

Conversely, arbitrations are conducted like regular trials, with a judge-like arbitrator (or arbitrators) making a final decision based upon the evidence presented, and hopefully the law of your jurisdiction. Appeals of an arbitrator’s decision are virtually nonexistent.

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Employee Non-Competes: Why Must Prospective Employers Be Wary?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have written previously about employee “non-competes” (a/k/a covenants not to compete or non-competition agreements). You may have come across them in your own business, either by requiring them of your own employees or seeking to hire someone subject to a non-compete.   However, the area of law surrounding non-competition agreements can be tricky, and a new decision has added to the intrigue.

In DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Jones, the Eastern District of Virginia denied two motions to dismiss filed by the new employers of employees governed by non-compete agreements. DePuy employed two salespersons pursuant to employment agreements that contained non-compete provisions. They eventually left DePuy and began working for a competitor, Sky Surgical. DePuy sued the employees and Sky Surgical. This blog post examines the tortious interference of employment contract claim made by DePuy against the new employer, Sky Surgical.

employee noncompete agreement

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Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

 

Maybe not, in certain circumstances. A Fairfax County judge has determined that an engineering firm cannot limit its liability by contract in a case involving a 2008 fee contract. The typical fee agreement for an engineering firm includes some form of “limitation of liability” in which the firm seeks to limit its liability “to the amount of fees paid” to the firm, whether the claim is for breach of contract or warranty, or for negligence. In the case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the engineering services firm, Dewberry, filed a fee claim against C3NS. C3NS filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. Dewberry had a limitation of liability clause in its fee agreement. It sought summary judgment to prevent C3NS from claiming that the limitation of liability paragraph was void. The Court sided with C3NS.

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Why you should have a buy-sell agreement with your business partners

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments


As we have previously noted, if businesses are analogous to marriages, then the start-up of businesses begins with the “honeymoon” stage in which the business partners believe that they have similar visions of the company’s rosy future. Things change.

The list of “things that change” is long including the death, retirement or disability of your business partner; you or your business partner wanting to sell your interest in the company; or one of you wanting to add another business partner. What do you do then? Continue reading “Why you should have a buy-sell agreement with your business partners”

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Attorney-Client Privilege: What is it and how do you protect it?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

The attorney-client privilege permits confidential communication between an attorney and her client.  The objective is to encourage open communication, which permits an attorney to provide thorough, competent and complete advice.  Generally speaking, only a client can waive the privilege, but as found by the Virginia Supreme Court in Walton v. Mid-Atlantic Spine Specialist, PC, et al., a client’s inadvertent disclosure of a privileged communication may operate as a waiver of the attorney-client privilege.

In this Williamsburg medical malpractice case, a defendant doctor wrote a letter to his attorney calling into question his medical diagnosis he gave to his patient. The doctor kept this letter in a separate notebook. During discovery the defendant medical practice used a third party service to copy document requests. The letter was provided inadvertently to the plaintiff.

Although the defendant claimed that he did not produce the letter or permit anyone else to produce the letter, the Court found that the defendant did not take adequate protection to protect the letter. The Court noted that the notebook in which the letter was found was not marked as confidential or privileged. Furthermore, the Court held that the client did not take prompt action following disclosure.

The Virginia Supreme Court considered five main factors in determining whether the inadvertent disclosure waived the client’s privilege.  The Court looked at:  (1) the reasonableness of the precautions to prevent inadvertent disclosures, (2) the time taken to rectify the error, (3) the scope of discovery, (4) the extent of the disclosure, and (5) whether the party asserting the claim of privilege or protection for the communication has used its unavailability for misleading or otherwise improper or overreaching purposes in the litigation making it unfair to allow the party to invoke confidentiality under the circumstances.

As a start, clients should maintain attorney-client privileged communications in a separate file or notebook and clearly mark the file or notebook and each communication as “CONFIDENTIAL-ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION.”  Then, if an inadvertent disclosure is made, the client should contact her attorney as soon as possible to determine a plan of action to restore the attorney-client privilege.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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It’s time for your Small Business to audit its Corporate Documents

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley | No Comments

Many of our New Year’s Resolutions address our personal health, but owners of small businesses should also resolve to address your corporate health. Small businesses operate with great attention to the product or service the company provides, but little energy is left to review the infrastructure of the company. Issues such as shareholder agreements, key person insurance, disability insurance, annual meetings and other corporate necessities are given short shrift because of the attention we pay to running the business.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Business Agreements

This blog post provides a few suggestions to help you overcome a problem unique to small businesses: spending too much time working in your business rather than working on your business.  Continue reading “It’s time for your Small Business to audit its Corporate Documents”

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