COVID-19 Litigation Roundup

September 28, 2020

Jason A. Levine, Peter E. Masaitis, Gillian H. Clow, Ryan Martin-Patterson, and Kaelyne Wietelman, Alston & Bird LPP

OVERVIEW

This week brought us several new rulings in long-pending cases, including the dismissal of six class actions against JPMorgan Chase based upon a ruling that banks are not required to pay “agent fees” under the Paycheck Protection Program.  Negligence claims in a suit against Princess Cruise Lines were dismissed on the pleadings because the plaintiffs had not adequately alleged causation.  A Florida judge shot down a plaintiff’s standing in her proposed class action against LA Fitness over club fee refunds.  And many more new cases were filed, including employment, government, derivative, insurance, and landlord-tenant suits.

CARES ACT

In the Southern District of New York, a federal judge threw out six proposed class actions filed by accountants who claimed JPMorgan Chase and other banks owed them agent fees under the Paycheck Protection Program.  The Court found no requirement to pay such fees.

And in Colorado, an attorney sued his former employer for allegedly listing him as a current employee – after the employer had fired him – in order to obtain a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

EMPLOYMENT

In Texas, a terminated employee claims her former employer’s bungled response to the pandemic caused her exposure to the virus.  The defendant, a nursing home in Burleson, Texas, allegedly provided false information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and mishandled its pandemic response, allowing 58 residents and employees to contract the virus.

And in Virginia, a terminated employee alleges that his former employer, a health care provider, wrongfully terminated him after he questioned his employer’s policies and procedures to protect and compensate employees in light of the pandemic.  The plaintiff further alleges that he was provided an N-95 mask, but was denied additional personal protective equipment.

NEGLIGENCE/FAILURE TO PROTECT

We previously reported on the many lawsuits filed against the Princess and Carnival cruise companies. This week, a federal court judge dismissed without prejudice passengers’ negligence claims brought against Princess Cruise Lines because the plaintiffs did not adequately allege causation.  The court reasoned that plaintiffs failed to allege when they started experiencing symptoms or when they tested positive for COVID-19. Claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress remain.

GOVERNMENT SUITS

The State of Maine joined the list of governments that have sued to enforce compliance with COVID-19 orders.  In this case, the state sued a brewing company alleging its employees are not wearing face masks.

And in St. Louis, a state mandate prohibiting high school sports has turned political.  A lawsuit seeks injunctive relief against the St. Louis County Executive prohibiting enforcement of the ban.  The plaintiff?  The County Executive’s political opponent in the November election, who filed suit on behalf of his daughter.

Similar to other lawsuits we have previously covered in Orange County, Florida, a group of teachers in Palm Beach County, Florida filed suit against the Palm Beach County School Board seeking an injunction to delay the reopening of schools in the county, due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19.

DERIVATIVE SUITS

In a previous Roundup, we reported that Vaxart Inc was facing a derivative lawsuit.  Now it’s facing two.  Another investor filed a lawsuit against the company’s officers for allegedly enriching themselves and artificially inflating stock prices.

REFUND

Some people can’t stand success. A Florida judge recently ruled that an LA Fitness member did not have standing to file a proposed class action over LA Fitness’s refund policy after members were unable to use the facility due to the pandemic. The reason? LA Fitness refunded the member two days before the member filed the lawsuit.

INSURANCE

Cases alleging claims for wrongful denial of business interruption coverage continued to be filed.

EVICTIONS

A residential landlord seeks to invalidate the CDC order halting evictions in order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.  The landlord, represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, argues that the CDC lacks authority to prevent evictions and claims that the order improperly interferes with state law.

Jason Levine is a commercial and antitrust litigation partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Alston & Bird LLP. Peter Masaitis is a product liability and toxic tort litigation partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office.  Gillian Clow, Ryan Martin-Patterson, and Kaelyne Wietelman are litigation associates at the firm.