Wedding Cancelled by Coronavirus? Here are Your Legal Options

As wedding season approaches, couples across the nation are faced with the grim reality that their weddings have been involuntarily canceled due to the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Consequently, we are likely to see an onslaught of lawsuits against wedding venues and vendors in the year to come. Particularly, breach of contract claims by bride-to-be’s against wedding venues and vendors for refusal to refund advanced payments for a wedding that never occurs. Fortunately, there is some hope for couples who have written contracts in place: wedding contracts may contain force majeure provisions, you may be able to rescind your wedding contract if it is impossible to execute, and your wedding contract may be unenforceable contracts because they are against public policy.

We have previously written on force majeure provisions during Coronavirus. However, wedding contracts create special circumstances allowing would be newlyweds. The U.S. has declared a national emergency, and certain states, such as California, have issued executive orders implementing “shelter in place” of all residents, ordering closure of all nonessential businesses, and prohibiting gatherings of over ten people, arguably creating a public policy that weddings cannot go forward during the crisis.

Generally, a legal claim fails if it is based on an agreement that violates law and is contrary to public policy. See Kashani v. Tsann Kuen China Enter. Co., 118 Cal. App. 4th 531, 559, 13 Cal. Rptr. 3d 174 (2004)( “[t]he law has a long history of recognizing the general rule that certain contracts, though properly entered into in all other respects, will not be enforced, or at least will not be enforced fully, if found to be contrary to public policy.”) Given the public prohibition in California regarding gatherings of ten or more people, any persons attending, hosting, or working a wedding would be acting contrary to public policy that would threaten public health.

For example, if a bride-to-be hires a wedding photographer, and the photographer fails to perform photography services at the wedding (because the wedding is cancelled from Coronavirus), then the bride-to-be would arguably not obligated to pay the photographer. The challenge with wedding vendor contracts is the prevailing industry standard, whereby all services are typically prepaid in full. Given the unprecedented circumstances provided by the COVID-19 epidemic, however, the photographer should refund the full payment for the services they never performed.

If you need a lawyer for wedding contracts, Tauler Smith LLP can advise you regarding your rights and obligations and help you navigate this process. Contact us to see if we can help.

Beware of Fake Cures to the Coronavirus

Companies peddling herbal remedies and other products that protect against Coronavirus are violating the law.

Growing fears about the Coronavirus pandemic have led to a dramatic rise in the sale of fraudulent nutritional supplements that claim to cure or prevent the disease. This phenomenon is not new.  The FDA itself has acknowledged that “during emergency situations or outbreaks, fraudulent products claiming to prevent, treat or cure conditions associated with the emergency or outbreak almost always appear for sale.”

Thus, on March 6, 2020 the FDA issued warning letters to several companies selling fake treatments for the coronavirus. The most infamous recipient of the warning letters, televangelist Jim Bakker, marketed a product that would “kill” coronavirus.  Bakker’s promotional videos claimed that the product, called “Silver Solution,” had been “tested on other strains of the coronavirus, and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours, totally eliminate it, kills it, deactivates it.”  Although these statements were arguably framed to evade false advertising lawsuits from consumers of coronavirus remedies, the statements are still considered unlawful.

Fraudulent claims about Coronavirus remedies are not limited to televangelists.  Sellers of herbal products have peddled homeopathic cures to the novel Coronavirus that have no basis in reality.  These include Amy Weidner of Herbal Amy, Inc., who claimed without any scientific support that “a number of herbs are strongly antiviral for corona viruses” in order to sell a formulation of various herbs on her website that she claimed were “preventative” of the disease.  Other websites have gone farther, selling four different herbal remedies to treat Coronavirus and dangerously stating that if their customers “are infected [with Coronavirus], take all 4 products and use the infection dosage.”

The dangers of marketing herbal products to treat a novel and deadly disease cannot be understated. At worst, consumers without access to medical care may forego medical treatment based on false claims. At minimum, consumers will shell out hard earned money for fake products that will do nothing to keep them safe.

As the pandemic spreads, so too will the opportunities for fraud. In the short time that Coronavirus has impacted daily life, a variety of fake remedies have evolved in products ranging from colloidal silver, ionic silver, herbal teas, and even essential oils like eucalyptus, all claiming they can cure or treat Coronavirus.

If you have purchased any products that claim to cure or prevent Coronavirus and believe you have been misled, contact us. Our false advertising attorneys can help investigate claims against unethical and immoral companies capitalizing on the Coronavirus crisis for their own financial benefit at the expense of the public.

Coronavirus and Broken Contracts

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has left a trail of thousands of broken contracts in its wake in a wide range of industries. From event cancellations, to broken supply chains, Coronavirus has already caused millions of dollars in commercial losses and business interruption. Continued travel restrictions, event cancellations, school and business closures, quarantines, supply-chain disruptions, cash flow problems, and worker shortages is expected to increase over the coming months. This in turn has left businesses wondering—who is liable for the disruption?

One provision often contained in comprehensive contracts is that of “force majeure.” Typically, force majeure provisions are included in contracts to excuse a breach if some unforeseen  circumstances preventing a party’s performance of the contract (ie, an act of God, such as hurricanes, war, earthquakes, etc.). The doctrine is also commonly referenced as “impossibility of performance.”

Photo Credit: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS, Dan Higgins, MAM

The concept of force majeure (French for “superior force”) originated in the Napoleonic Code of 1804. The breaching party to an agreement was condemned unless their non-performance or delay in performance resulted from a cause that could not be imputed to them, and by a cause of a superior force or of a fortuitous occurrence.

For most businesses, Coronavirus is an unforeseen circumstance out of their control, however, the application of force majeure to any particular contract must be done applying the law of the relevant jurisdiction.

California law recognizes that parties may not be held liable when unforeseen circumstances prevent them from fulfilling their contractual obligations, whether or not the contract has a force majeure clause. The leading Supreme Court case in California defines force majeure as an “insuperable interference” occurring without the party’s intervention that “could not have been prevented by the exercise of prudence, diligence and care.” Insuperable in this context means “impossible to overcome.” Although the case dates back to World War II, it has been cited as recently as 2015 as proper guidance for the interpretation of contracts.

For its part, the State of California defines force majeure in its standard Judicial Council contracts a “a delay which impacts the timely performance of work which neither Contractor nor the State are liable because such delay or failure to perform was unforeseeable and beyond the control of the party.” The standard contract goes on to specifically list “quarantine or epidemic” as such a circumstance. Thus, quarantines resulting from the Coronavirus epidemic would render this provision operable.

Many contracts, however, do not contain specific language in force majeure provisions. Thus, each contract must be carefully analyzed with the law of the jurisdiction in order for businesses to understand their options.

Force majeure is one of many tools that business owners and individuals can use to mitigate the fall out from the current crisis. The bottom line is that businesses have options to escape ruinous consequences caused by circumstances  beyond their control. Companies should seek legal counsel to navigate the ongoing effects of Coronavirus.

DNP Distributor Sentenced to 7 Years for Selling as “Not for Human Consumption” Two U.S. Deaths Confirmed from the Sale of DNP

Barry Clint Wright, owner of CrystalDNP.com was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for distributing DNP (dinitrophenol) as “not for human consumption” and as fertilizer among other things. The government enhanced his sentence because of three confirmed deaths from his products, two in the United States.

FDA Press Release: http://bit.ly/2T8PxFt

Blackstone Labs Criminal Trial Update Co-Defendant Pleads Guilty

Tauler Smith LLP Defeats Three Successive Motions for Summary Adjudication in Protein Bar Dispute

LOS ANGELES, November 10, 2019 ‑ Tauler Smith LLP has successfully defeated three motions for summary adjudication in complex multi-party litigation regarding the manufacture of protein bars. The triad of motions were brought by cross-defendants Defense Nutrition, LLC, Sapphire Bakery Co., and Bruce Olsen, Sapphire’s former CEO, against law firm client and cross-complainant Eagle Mist Corporation.

The litigation has spanned over three years and includes three cross-complaints between seven parties, all relating to business disputes surrounding the manufacture of thirteen types of nutritional protein bars. In one cross-complaint, Eagle Mist Corporation, who specializes in formulation of foods, has alleged that various entities conspired to commit fraud and breach a series of contracts culminating in the conversion of Eagle Mist Corporation’s assets.

In two separate hearings on October 1 and November 8, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield denied cross-defendants’ Motion for Summary Adjudication in their entirety, allowing Eagle Mist’s claims of breach of contract, conversion, concealment, and fraudulent misrepresentation proceed to trial.

The Court rejected the arguments brought by Cross-Defendants, including that lost profits were unavailable to Eagle Mist, reasoning that the availability of lost profits “is a quintessential jury question.”

The case is set for a two-week jury trial in January, 2020. “We are very pleased that the Court has agreed that our clients’ claims should proceed to trial,” lead counsel Robert Tauler said.

$40 Million in Contempt Sanctions for False Advertising of Weight Loss Supplements in Violation of Injunction Affirmed

The 11th Circuit upheld a district court’s granting of $40 million in contempt sanctions against Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals and other co-defendants for making unsubstantiated marketing statements on four weight loss supplements in violation of an injunction obtained by the Federal Trade Commission. The $40 million figure represents the amount of gross revenue from the four products.

“The ink had hardly dried on filings from the first injunction case when the defendants started a new marketing campaign in 2009. This time, they touted the fat- and weight-loss benefits of four products—a reformulated version of Lipodrene, Fastin, Benzedrine, and Stimerex-ES. For example, advertisements for Lipodrene warned users not to consume the product unless ‘fat loss and weight loss are your intended result’; advertisements for Fastin boasted that it was an ‘Extreme Fat Burner’; those for Benzedrine claimed that it would ‘annihilate . . . fat’; and advertisements for Stimerex-ES told users that this was a product ‘for those who want their fat-burner to light them up all day as their pounds melt away.'”

The full opinion is available here.

Tauler Smith LLP files lawsuit in Michigan against convenience stores

The suit filed in Detroit federal court accuses the companies that own the gas stations and covenience stores of selling pills that are billed as sexual enhancement supplements, which lab tests have found actually contain drugs such as sildenafil, desmethyl carbodenafil, dapoxetine and tadalafil.

Check out the coverage by various local TV stations and newspapers in Michigan:

WJBK (Fox) Detroit: http://www.fox2detroit.com/news/local-news/lawsuit-detroit-gas-stations-selling-male-enhancement-pills-with-hidden-active-ingredients

WXYZ (ABC) Detroit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD5H_gL5mws

WDIV (NBC) Detroit: https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/metro-detroit-gas-stations-accused-of-selling-viagra-to-unsuspecting-customers

WWJ News Radio, Detroit: https://wwjnewsradio.radio.com/articles/detroit-gas-stations-named-federal-lawsuit-selling-viagra-without-prescription

Detroit Free Press, Detroit: https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2018/08/13/do-you-need-prescription-viagra/974946002/

Metro Times, Detroit: https://www.metrotimes.com/news-hits/archives/2018/08/13/sunoco-may-be-selling-viagra-disguised-as-enhancement-pills

Courthouse News: https://www.courthousenews.com/gas-stations-accused-of-selling-illegal-male-enhancement-drugs/

Texas gas stations secretly selling Viagra are exposed by False Advertising Law Firm Tauler Smith LLP

The suit filed in Houston federal court accuses the companies that own the gas stations of selling pills that are billed as sexual enhancement supplements, which lab tests have found actually contain drugs such as sildenafil, desmethyl carbodenafil, dapoxetine and tadalafil.

Check out the coverage by various local TV stations in Texas:

KTRK/CNN Tyler, Texas: https://www.easttexasmatters.com/news/top-stories/gas-stations-selling-illegal-viagra/1351659361

KGNS (NBC) Laredo, Texas: http://www.kgns.tv/content/news/Texas-lawyer-sues-gas-stations-over-490283331.html

KXAN (NBC) Austin, Texas: https://www.kxan.com/news/texas/lawsuit-houston-convenience-stores-sell-viagra-laced-supplements/1351083377

Channel 2 (NBC) Houston, Texas: https://www.click2houston.com/video/15-convenience-stores-accused-of-selling-pills-with-drug-found-in-viagra

ABC 13 Houston, Texas: https://abc13.com/health/viagra-laced-pills-allegedly-being-sold-at-houston-gas-stations/3895662/