Are Insurance Companies Financial Institutions in Garnishment Actions? Georgia Supreme Court Says No

In October 2015, Harold Blach filed a garnishment action against Aflac in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. He sought to garnish funds (to the tune of $160,000) from a judgment he had obtained against a former Aflac employee, Sal Diaz-Verson. Blach used the garnishment form applicable to general garnishments while Diaz-Verson argued that the form for financial institutions should have been used.


Why all the hang up over a form? Following a federal judge’s 2015 ruling that a Georgia garnishment statute was unconstitutional, Georgia’s state legislature amended the statute. In its amended form, the statute mandates different forms for general garnishments, which have a 29-day garnishment period, and garnishments on a financial institution, which have a 5-day garnishment period. The amended statute aims to provide added protections to garnishment actions directed toward bank accounts.


The judge in this action certified the question to the Georgia Supreme Court – are insurance companies financial institutions in garnishment actions? A plain meaning interpretation suggests that insurance companies are financial institutions, but the Supreme Court pointed to the legislative intent of the amended statute and came to a different conclusion. Instead, the Court relied on the definition of financial institutions, as companies that are held out to the public as institutions for depositing of funds, savings, and investments. Accordingly, the Court found that insurance companies are not classified as financial institutions within the context of garnishment actions.


This holding from the Georgia Supreme Court, though narrow within the context of garnishment actions, poses a unique question. Many insurance companies are transactional in nature, similar to traditional financial institutions like banks. Some insurance companies are even starting to define their businesses as technology and data companies.


As insurance companies’ institutionally shift the nature in which they identify in response to changes in technology, industry changes, and other internal and external factors, the courts may find the practice of categorizing insurance companies ambiguous within the context of different legal actions.

Are Insurance Companies Financial Institutions in Garnishment Actions? Georgia Supreme Court Says No (PDF)

ISS Faces Uncertain Future in the Commercial Space Age

The White House recently revealed in a NASA budget draft its plans to discontinue federal funding for the International Space Station (“ISS”) by 2025. This news comes on the tails of the administration’s plan to transition the ISS from NASA operation to one that accommodates competing commercial customers. While the White House has not yet released a concrete plan for what such an unprecedented transition would entail, the novelty of transforming an international, state-funded space research laboratory into a commercially available entity in low-orbit is sure to have a profound effect on international space law.


Recap: “BCLB Law Firm Hot Topic Lunch Talk: Kirkland & Ellis LLP – The Hunstman Merger”

On February 12th, 2018, the Berkeley Center for Law and Business welcomed attorneys Bill Sorabella and Shawn O’Hargan from Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Kirkland & Ellis LLP advised American chemical manufacturer Huntsman Corporation on its $20 billion merger with Swiss chemical company Clariant. Then, in the final stages of negotiations, there was an unexpected twist, as activist investors abruptly blocked the merger. Sorabella and O’Hargan led the team that crafted the deal, before that deal suddenly fell through.


Startup CEO Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Former Employees

Isaac Choi, the founder and CEO of WrkRiot, pleaded guilty to defrauding several former employees. He now faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

When he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, Choi admitted “he made false and misleading statements about various topics, including his educational and professional history, and the amount of his wealth” in an effort to recruit potential employees. He further admitted to emailing several employees forged documents reflecting salary payments that were never made.


Bush Security Advisor Warns Against Blockchain Cold War

Juan Zarate, who served former U.S. President George W. Bush as a former deputy assistant has been widely recognized as an important man who helped develop financial embargos that cut off terrorist funding after 9/11. He was also an early advocate of blockchain technology having been a counsel at Coinbase. Zarate’s financial instruments have been a widely-accepted tool in putting pressure on enemies of the state.

Zarate emphasized that not only can blockchain and crytocurrencies give greater autonomy to individuals, but they potentially can encourage commercial activities as well. He also told Coindesk his concern that blockchain technology is a double-edged sword that might also be weaponized to illicit ends.


Guess Inc. Investigates Allegations against Co-Founder, Paul Marciano

Paul Marciano, co-founder of fashion retailer Guess Inc., is under investigation for alleged improper sexual conduct. In a tweet late January, model Kate Upton accused Paul Marciano of sexual harassment and of using his power to intimidate her while she was 18 and working for a company campaign, tweeting: “It’s disappointing that such an iconic women’s brand @Guess is still empowering Paul Marciano as their creative director #metoo.” A week following the tweet, in an interview with Time Magazine, Upton detailed the harassment and stated that she was fired after refusing Marciano’s advances. Her allegations of Marciano’s lengthy misconduct were corroborated by the campaign photographer, Yu Tsai, who was also fired during Upton’s time at Guess Inc.


Indian Federal Agency Launches an Investigation of Billionaire Jewelry Designer for Bank Fraud

On Monday, February 5, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of India launched an investigation into billionaire Indian jeweler, Nirav Modi, his brother Nishal, his wife Ami, and his business partner Mehul Chinubhai Choksi for cheating Punjab National Bank of over $44 million. The CBI acted on a complaint by the bank alleging that the aforementioned business partners were in collusion with the officials of the bank, and cheated it. The money was obtained by Nirav Modi and others on the pretext of advance payments to international suppliers.


Nirav Modi, a celebrity in his own right, grew up in a family of diamantaires and has been in the business for over a decade. His designs have been worn by international celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Aishwarya Rai. He is one of the richest people in India with a net worth of over $1.8 billion, according to Forbes. This news will certainly cause alarm in the international circle as he has stores all around the globe with two stores that recently opened in the United States.


What Do We Not Know about Bitcoin?

Have you ever gotten the feeling that everyone knows something you don’t know? Many people are starting to feel that way about Bitcoin.


Most recently, China has blocked everyone in its country from accessing websites that offer cryptocurrency trading services or initial coin offerings (“ICOs”). Yes, no more Bitcoin in China! The initial response is to ask why, but I think we have a better chance of figuring out who created Bitcoin than determining the ultimate motives of the Chinese government. The question that concerns me is: does the Chinese government know something about Bitcoin that other people or governments do not know?


China’s Trade Investigation Takes Aim at Trump’s Voter Base

Trade disputes between two of the world’s largest economic powerhouses, China and the U.S., escalated, as China has opened an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into sorghum imports from the United States. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the issue was an “individual, normal trade remedy investigation case.” The decision, announced by China’s Commerce Ministry, could lead to steep tariffs on sorghum – a seemingly direct response to President Trump’s announcement of steep tariffs on imports of washing machines and solar energy cells and panels. That announcement sought to promote the President’s “America First” agenda, which seeks to protect manufacturers in the United States, and create new jobs on American soil. As such, it is not surprising that China has chosen to target Trump’s base in the agricultural industry.


Woman Sues Walmart for Discriminating Against African-American Customers

Imagine this scenario: you are walking to your local retail chain to buy basic hygiene products, like a comb, hair conditioner, and skin lotion. And every time you want access to this product to either hold it or read the label on the back, you must walk all the way to the cashier and wait for them to be free so that they can unlock the product for you. The vast majority of customers do not have to go through this process, but you do.


A California woman, Essie Grundy, and many African-American shoppers at a local Walmart do not have to imagine this scenario. Earlier this year, she noticed that beauty products targeted for African-American consumers at her store were locked up, requiring an employee’s attention in order to unlock the products from a security case. Ms. Grundy went through this inconvenient process on three different occasions.


As a result of this disparate treatment, Ms. Grundy has decided to sue Walmart. Citing her feelings of humiliation and discrimination, Ms. Grundy initially spoke with the store’s employees to try and see if the policy of locking up products could be modified. However, she was unsuccessful.


According to Walmart, items are locked up for security purposes and the products to be locked up are decided on a store-by-store basis. Moreover, items are locked up because they are more likely to be stolen. Still, despite this rational intent, many African-American customers at Walmart find themselves bearing the disproportionate burden when shopping at the store.


Ms. Grundy is represented by Gloria Allred, a high-profile civil rights attorney who is known for taking controversial cases and focuses on the protection of women’s rights. Ms. Allred is known for representing Nicole Brown Simpson’s estate during the O.J. Simpson trial, and more recently, at least 28 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault.


Ms. Grundy is asking for modification of Walmart’s policy toward African-American shoppers, lawyer fees, and $4,000 in damages.

Woman Sues Walmart for Discriminating Against African-American Customers (PDF)