FTC Allows Amazon/Whole Foods Deal to Go Through, but Not Everyone Agrees

As consumers celebrated lower avocado prices at Whole Foods during the last week in August, views were mixed regarding the FTC’s decision not to challenge the Amazon/Whole Foods merger.

On August 23, 2017, the FTC’s Bureau of Competition issued a short statement that read, in its entirety: “The FTC conducted an investigation of this proposed acquisition to determine whether it substantially lessened competition under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, or constituted an unfair method of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act. Based on our investigation we have decided not to pursue this matter further. Of course, the FTC always has the ability to investigate anticompetitive conduct should such action be warranted.”

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FTC Issues First Endorsement Case Against Social Media Influencers

On September 7, 2017, the FTC announced its first-ever case against social media influencers. In its complaint, the FTC alleged that two widely followed gamers, Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and Thomas “Syndicate” Cassell, posted messages endorsing online gaming service CSGO Lotto without disclosing that the two jointly owned the company. In addition to deceptively endorsing the service, the two are alleged to have paid thousands of influencers to promote CSGO Lotto in social media without requiring those influencers to disclose the payments, which ranged between $2,500 and $55,000. The consent agreement requires Cassell and Martin to clearly and conspicuously disclose material connections between any endorser and promoted products and services.  Continue Reading

FTC Announces Settlement with Lenovo Regarding Preinstalled Laptop Software

On September 5, 2017, the FTC announced that Lenovo, Inc. (“Lenovo”) agreed to settle charges that its preloaded software on some laptop computers compromised online security protections in order to deliver advertisements to consumers. The settlement agreement (the “Settlement”) is between Lenovo, the FTC and 32 State Attorneys General.  Continue Reading

Federal Judge Invalidates Obama-Era Department of Labor Overtime Rule

On August 31, 2017, a federal district court judge in Texas struck down the Department of Labor’s (“DOL’s”) Obama-era controversial 2016 rule that raised the minimum salary threshold required to qualify for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white collar” exemption. Under the proposed regulations, the minimum salary threshold was raised to just over $47,000 per year, and increased the overtime eligibility threshold for highly compensated workers from $100,000 to about $134,000. Ruling in favor of the Plano Chamber of Commerce and various business groups on their motion for summary judgment, Judge Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division, held that the DOL had “exceeded its authority and gone too far” with the rule. Noting that the new rule “more than double[d]” the previous salary threshold – from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $913 per week ($47,476 annually) – the court determined that the rule improperly made “salary rather than an employee’s duties determinative of whether a ‘bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity’ employee should be exempt from overtime pay.”

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The Importance of Insurance Coverage for Commercial Drone Operations

Retailers are increasingly relying on drones to further automate delivery systems and inventory management, among many other uses. The Federal Aviation Administration recently predicted that nearly 4 million drones will be operating in the U.S. by the year 2021.

Hunton & Williams Insurance Coverage attorneys Syed Ahmad and Geoffrey Fehling, with co-author Robert Hopson of Lockton Companies, recently published an article in Unmanned Aerial Online providing an overview of available insurance coverage for commercial drones and several coverage issues to consider when buying insurance for drone operations.

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Creditors’ Committee in H.H. Gregg Initiates Preference Demands and Litigation Against Creditors

In March of this year, consumer electronics and home appliance retailer Gregg Appliances, Inc., better known as H.H. Gregg, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Indianapolis, Indiana. H.H. Gregg, which took over many of the retail spaces previously occupied by Circuit City, is one of many big-box retailers that have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy over the past several years. Like Circuit City, H.H. Gregg was unsuccessful in reorganizing in bankruptcy and is now seeking to recover payments made to vendors and other creditors within 90 days prior to the bankruptcy filing. Continue Reading

Simon Property Settled with NY AG Over Outlet Centers Restrictions

On August 21, 2017, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that Simon Property Group settled claims that it used anticompetitive tactics to prevent development of competing outlet centers close to Woodbury Common center in New York. Leases with retailers at Woodbury Common included a clause preventing the retailers from opening another location within a 60 mile radius of the outlet center – a radius that encompassed the entire New York City area.  Continue Reading

Recall Roundup: August

August was a busy month in the world of recalls. First, the end of August ushered in a hefty $5.7 million civil penalty against a major retailer in the United States. The retailer was allegedly selling and distributing recalled products and has agreed, in addition to the civil penalty, to maintain a compliance program and a system of internal controls and procedures. The CPSC voted 4 to 1 to accept the settlement, with Acting Chairman Buerkle voting to accept a lower civil penalty. Continue Reading

Shopping Center Restrictions Should Be Revisited in the Wake of Changing Retail

It’s probably painfully obvious to companies in the retail industry and beyond that the old paradigm of the retail shopping center is being permanently altered by e-commerce, as well as changing consumer preferences. As the old-guard stalwarts of retail begin to shutter stores or fold completely, it is up to both landlords and existing anchor tenants to adapt to the changing landscape, or risk prolonged periods of high vacancy.

One of the areas which can hamper efforts to re-tenant spaces are the restrictive covenants contained in both declarations governing shopping centers and in anchor leases, put in place with the justification that such concepts are not retail-oriented or are parking intensive. As consumers move towards a more experience-based retail experience (i.e., restaurants, entertainment and fitness concepts), landlords may find their hands tied by such restrictive covenants when it comes to leasing vacant spaces. In light of this, landlord’s should be reviewing their restrictive covenants both in declarations and leases any time a lease is being amended, modified or renewed which may contain leasing restrictions.

Careful attention should be paid to those restrictions that can affect leasing to post-e-commerce era concepts, such as restaurants and small format fitness centers, both of which are becoming an increasing share of retail centers. Unless these issues are tackled head on, landlords may find themselves with vacant spaces for extended periods of time, which harms traffic to the shopping centers and, consequently, traffic to existing tenants. Landlords may find that tenants may be more willing to play ball on dropping these restrictions if they come to the realization that extended vacancies harm tenants more than the parking issues that these restrictions are intended to protect against.

Consumer Protection in Retail: Weekly Roundup

This past week, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.

Dona J. Fraser Appointed Director of CARU

The Advertising Self-Regulatory Council and Council of Better Business Bureaus announced that Dona J. Fraser was appointed as Director of the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (“CARU”). Fraser is a leading privacy expert who previously worked for the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a self-regulatory program for the video game industry. CARU is an ASRC program dedicated to monitoring child-directed advertising since 1974. Continue Reading

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