Police Reform
Aug 5, 2020

LEAD STORY

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed comprehensive police accountability legislation into law last Friday.  The law creates a new statewide watchdog for police misconduct, bans chokeholds in most instances, and puts limits on the ability of police departments to withhold officers’ disciplinary records.  One of the most debated sections of the bill will limit qualified immunity for police officers.

 

IS THAT A BIG DEAL?

Yes.  Qualified immunity is the doctrine that shields police officers and other public employees from lawsuits.  Under the new law, Connecticut police officers can be subject to civil suits and can only claim immunity if the officer “had an objectively good faith belief that such officer’s conduct did not violate the law.”  If a court should find against an officer for having committed a “malicious, wanton, or willful act,” the officer must reimburse the government for his or her legal defense.  This section becomes effective July 1, 2021.  Connecticut is the second state to limit legal immunity for law enforcement officers in the wake of the George Floyd protests.

 

REMIND ME OF THE FIRST STATE AGAIN

As we reported earlier, Colorado passed legislation that makes officers personally liability for up to $25,000 in damages in lawsuits related to misconduct. The Colorado sweeping police reform law also bans chokeholds, requires body cameras by 2023, and officers must report other officers for wrongdoing.

 

WHAT ARE THE SUPREMES SAYING?

Not much.  In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear eight separate cases that presented opportunities to reconsider qualified immunity.  However, in Congress, both branches of the legislature introduced police reform bills.  The House Justice in Policing Act, with 230 cosponsors, would eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement.  The Senate Justice Act, with 48 cosponsors, would keep qualified immunity intact.  We’ll keep looking at these state and federal initiatives and their impact on public entities.

 

Two Bites of the Same Apple

 

PRODUCT LIABILITY

Consumers can hold a company liable not only for misrepresenting a product but also the physical harm it causes, said the New Jersey Supreme Court in a 5-0 decision.  Therefore, a Consumer Fraud Act claim can be filed concurrently with a Product Liability Act claim in the same complaint.  The court ruled that the nature of the claim, not the remedy, determines how a claim is characterized.

 

CONSUMER FRAUD

The suit arose from an explosion in an ink manufacturing facility that injured its employees and damaged its facility (Sun Chemical Corp. v. Fike Corp).  Sun Chemical sued under the NJ Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) alleging Fike made oral and written misrepresentations.  However, Fike argued that Sun Chemical’s claim would fall under the NJ Product Liability Act (PLA).  The state’s high court found the PLA doesn’t bar misrepresentation claims under the CFA because the laws provide different protections and remedies.

 

Making Our Way Around the Country

CORONAVIRUS

A federal court on Monday voided parts of a Trump administration rule that restricted paid sick leave and emergency family leave for potentially millions of workers affected by the coronavirus.  The rule was adopted in April to implement the Families First Response Act, which could affect as many as 61 million employees eligible for up to two weeks of paid sick leave and 13 weeks of mostly paid emergency family leave.  The court vacated the sections of the Dept. of Labor's final rule that broadly define health-care exemptions, that allowed employers to deny leave if they didn’t have work available, and that mandated workers receive employer consent for taking intermittent leave.  Remaining pieces of the rule, including the carve-out for businesses with 500 or more workers, still stand.

 

CALIFORNIA

An Assembly bill (AB 979) is gaining attention in the state Senate that would require public corporations headquartered in California to increase ethnic representation on their board of directors or face fines from the Secretary of State.  Last week the Senate updated the bill to include additional underrepresented groups so now the definition includes individuals that self-identify as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific-Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native.  Failure to timely file can result in a $100K fine with subsequent violations resulting in a $300K fine.  In 2018, the Women on Boards was signed into law to advance equitable gender representation on California Boards.

 

NATURAL DISASTERS

On the West Coast, over 2,000 firefighters are battling California’s Apple Fire in parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.  On the East Coast, Hurricane Isaias made landfall bringing coastal and inland flooding.  Coastal flooding and storm surges could threaten assets worth up to 20% of the global wealth by the end of the century, according to a recent study.  Especially during these challenging times, we’re thinking about those impacts by these events.  Stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.

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