Macy’s to Close 45 Stores this Year

Department store operator Macy’s Inc. said yesterday that it would close about 45 stores this year as part of its three-year plan to lower store count in order to focus on its more productive outlets, Reuters reported. Even before the lockdowns in the U.S. last year, Macy’s had announced the plan to close 125 of its least productive stores to tackle plummeting mall traffic. It had closed about 30 stores in 2020. “Macy’s is committed to rightsizing our store fleet by concentrating our existing retail locations in desirable and well-trafficked A and B malls,” Macy’s said in an emailed statement. The COVID-19 outbreak has worsened the plight of certain mall-based chains, forcing them to shutter stores and double down on their online business, while few chains are looking to open smaller stores in off-mall locations. Macy’s, which operates over 750 shops, including Bluemercury, and Bloomingdale’s, said it would post a list of stores expected to be closed this year on its website.

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Crash Was a Driving Accident, Not a Breakfast Accident

Statute bars compensation for injury resulting from “risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life.” Risk means activity. That exclusion, like all workers’ compensation statutes, is subject to strict construction. Claimant choked on his breakfast, passed out, and crashed his work van while on his way to a work assignment. Breakfast, choking, and passing out are unrelated to the employment and part of normal nonemployment life, but driving the van to a work assignment is not, and crashing the van caused the injury. Driving the van while having breakfast violated an employer safety rule, for which statutes penalize claimant, but do not remove driving from the course of employment.
GARY BOOTHE, JR., Employee-Appellant v. DISH NETWORK, INC., Employer-Respondent
Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District – SD36408

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Motion for Summary Judgment Leaves Material Facts in Genuine Dispute

In an action to enforce settlement, on a motion for summary judgment, movant included two documents naming different sums. Each party claimed that a different document constituted a settlement offer, movant the first and non-movant the second. Non-movant’s response to the motion included a third letter showing acceptance of the second letter, raising a genuine dispute as to which of the first two letters constituted the offer of settlement, which was material to the claim. The state of the record therefore precluded summary judgment, circuit court erred in granting the motion, and Court of Appeals reverses and remands.  
NORMAN LAWS, Appellant vs. PROGRESSIVE DIRECT INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent
Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District – SD36707

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Right to Sue Procedure Explained

Statutes provide that, on a claim of employment discrimination, a claimant must first file the claim with the Missouri Human Rights Commission. The Commission then investigates the claim by means within its discretion, which need not include employer’s response, and may conclude without pursuing legal action on the claim. If the Commission does not pursue legal action on the claim, it issues claimant a right-to-sue letter. No formal hearing is required before the Commission determines whether to issue the right-to-sue letter, so that determination is a non-contested case, in which no formal hearing need occur until an appeal in circuit court. If 180 days pass without completion of the investigation, and claimant requests, a right-to-sue letter must issue. The mandatory issuance is not a determination on the merits of a claim and, even if it were, a determination on a discrimination theory does not require the same determination on a retaliation theory. Adherence to statutory procedure leaves only constitutional challenges to the statute itself, on the theory that due process required a contested case, which claimant did not pursue. On a petition for writ of mandamus, seeking to mandate further investigation by the Commission, circuit court did not err in granting a motion to dismiss.  
State of Missouri ex rel. Stephanie Dalton vs. Missouri Commission on Human Rights, et al
(Overview Summary)
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District – WD83336

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Trump Signs Stimulus and Government Spending Bill into Law, Averting Shutdown

President Trump signed the stimulus bill into law yesterday, releasing $900 billion in emergency relief funds into the economy and averting a government shutdown. White House officials didn’t explain why the president decided to suddenly sign into law a bill he had held up for nearly a week and had previously referred to as a “disgrace”. Trump had previously demanded changes to the stimulus and spending package for a week, suggesting he would refuse to sign it until these demands were met. This continued defiance caused lawmakers from both parties to panic over the weekend, worried about the implications of a government shutdown during a pandemic. It was unclear what prompted him to change his mind late Sunday. The package will extend aid to millions of struggling households through stimulus checks, enhanced federal unemployment benefits, and money for small businesses, schools and child care, as well as for vaccine distribution. It also repurposes $429 billion in unused funding provided by the Cares Act for emergency lending programs run by the Federal Reserve.

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JPMorgan Finds Some Workers Improperly Pocketed Relief Funds

JPMorgan Chase & Co. found that some of its employees improperly applied for and received Covid-relief money that was intended for legitimate U.S. businesses hurt by the pandemic, Bloomberg News reported. The bank discovered the actions, all of which were tied to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, after noticing that suspicious amounts of money had been deposited into checking accounts owned by bank employees, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The findings prompted an unusual all-staff message from JPMorgan Tuesday that puzzled many across the industry for its candid admission of potentially illegal acts by some of its own while not describing what they had done. The Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program had been expanded significantly after the pandemic led to rolling shutdowns across the country, leaving many small enterprises in need of a cash lifeline. Unlike with the Paycheck Protection Program, banks didn’t issue or underwrite the disaster loans and grants. Instead, loans or grants came directly from the SBA. The findings of employee misconduct came in a broader sweep of individual accounts that received business aid, said a source, noting the bank fired people it believes improperly tapped the money. The SBA warned banks July 22 to be on the lookout for suspicious deposits or activity as part of the EIDL program. The agency’s inspector general has since flagged evidence of fraud in the program, saying that it identified more than $250 million in aid given to potentially ineligible recipients as well as $45.6 million in possibly duplicate payments. A Bloomberg Businessweek analysis of SBA data last month identified $1.3 billion in suspicious payments. The nation’s largest bank sent a memo to roughly 256,000 employees on Tuesday in which senior leaders said they were probing whether any staffers helped people misuse aid programs including “Paycheck Protection Program Loans, unemployment benefits and other government programs.” The firm had said that it identified conduct by customers that didn’t meet its principles and “may even be illegal” and that some employees had fallen short on ethical standards, too.

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DeVos Suspends Student Federal Loan Payments through January

The Trump administration on Friday suspended all federal student loan payments through the end of January and kept interest rates at 0 percent, extending a moratorium that started early in the pandemic but was set to expire at the end of this month, the Associated Press reported. By extending payments by one month, the administration is effectively leaving it to the Biden administration or Congress to decide whether to provide longer-term relief to millions of student borrowers. The measure was included in a March relief package and the White House extended it in August, but its fate was in doubt amid stalemate over a new relief bill. In announcing the extension, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rebuked Congress for failing to act. “The added time also allows Congress to do its job and determine what measures it believes are necessary and appropriate,” DeVos said in a statement. “The Congress, not the Executive Branch, is in charge of student loan policy.” Under the measure, students will not be required to make payments, their loans will not accrue interest and all collection activity will halt until the end of January. Last month, the American Council on Education and dozens of other higher education associations urged DeVos to extend the relief, saying that the recent surge in COVID-19 cases would likely lead to even more economic turmoil. President-elect Joe Biden has not directly addressed the moratorium but on Tuesday called for immediate relief including “relief from rent and student loans.” He has also supported proposals to erase up to $10,000 in student debt for all borrowers as part of a future virus relief package.

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CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU AND MULTIPLE STATES ENTER INTO SETTLEMENT WITH NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC FOR UNLAWFUL SERVICING PRACTICES

Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) filed a complaint and proposed stipulated judgment and order against Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, which does business as Mr. Cooper (Nationstar).  The Bureau’s action is part of a coordinated effort between the Bureau, a multistate group of state attorneys general, and state bank regulators.  The Bureau alleges that Nationstar violated multiple Federal consumer financial laws, causing substantial harm to the borrowers whose mortgage loans it serviced, including distressed homeowners.  Nationstar is one of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers and the largest non-bank mortgage servicer in the United States.  The proposed judgment and order, if entered by the court, would require Nationstar to pay approximately $73 million in redress to more than 40,000 harmed borrowers.  It would also require Nationstar to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty to the Bureau.  Attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and bank regulators from 53 jurisdictions covering 48 states and Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia have also settled with Nationstar today and their settlements are reflected in separate actions, concurrently filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Mortgage servicers are entrusted with handling significant financial transactions for millions of Americans, including struggling homeowners.  Nationstar broke that trust by engaging in unfair and deceptive practices prohibited by the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, as well as violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and the Homeowner’s Protection Act,” said CFPB Director Kathleen L. Kraninger.  “Today’s action is the culmination of a multi-year effort working with our state partners to investigate Nationstar’s failings, which resulted in substantial consumer harm.  We had a strong partnership with our state counterparts in this case and I thank them for all their support in this case.”

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CFPB Settles with Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation for Illegal Collections and Repossession Practices

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a consent order against Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. (Nissan), an auto financing subsidiary of Nissan North America, Inc., which services auto loans and leases originated by Nissan and Infiniti dealerships nationwide, according to a press release. The Bureau found that Nissan and its agents: wrongfully repossessed vehicles; kept personal property in consumers’ repossessed vehicles until consumers paid a storage fee; deprived consumers paying by phone of the ability to select payment options with significantly lower fees; and, in its loan extension agreements, made a deceptive statement that appeared to limit consumers’ bankruptcy protections.  These actions violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s (CFPA) prohibition against unfair and deceptive acts and practices.  The  consent order yesterday requires Nissan to provide up to $1 million of cash redress to consumers subject to a wrongful repossession, credit any outstanding account charges associated with a wrongful repossession, and to pay a civil money penalty of $4 million.  It also imposes certain requirements to prevent future violations and remediate consumers whose vehicles are wrongfully repossessed going forward. The CFPB specifically found that, from 2013 through September of 2019, Nissan repossessed hundreds of consumers’ vehicles despite the consumer having made payments or otherwise taken actions that should have prevented the repossession.  The Bureau also found that, from at least early 2014 through late August 2017, Nissan’s repossession agents, with Nissan’s knowledge, demanded that consumers pay a separate, upfront storage fee for personal property contained in repossessed vehicles.  These agents refused to return consumers’ personal property until the consumers paid the fee.

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Theater Chain AMC Says It Could Run Out of Cash by Year-End

The world’s largest movie-theater company may run out of cash by year’s end if it doesn’t raise additional funds or get more people back to theaters following pandemic shutdowns that have disrupted businesses dependent on consumers gathering in public spaces, the Wall Street Journal reported. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. said yesterday that it has reopened 83 percent of its U.S. theaters, but that attendance is down about 85 percent at those theaters from the year before. At the company’s current cash-burn rate, its reserves would be depleted by the end of this year or early next year, Kansas-based AMC said. In related news, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. Chief Executive Adam Aron talked with WSJ Pro Bankruptcy about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the movie-theater industry and on his company, the sector’s largest. One of the main issues, he said, is that New York state and certain major metropolitan areas in California such as Los Angeles haven’t allowed cinemas to reopen, prompting studios to delay major releases. A spokeswoman for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said yesterday that the state is concerned about movie theaters because they involve large groups spending extended time together indoors, as well as lobby congestion when customers arrive and leave. “Movie studios cannot afford to open movies in the U.S. if they cannot also open them in New York,” Aron said. “As a result of that, the entire movie industry is waiting for New York to bless the reopening of theaters, and understandably so.” AMC yesterday warned that it could run out of cash by year’s end if it doesn’t raise additional funds or get more people back to theaters. “We’ve been going through $100 million a month, waiting for the movie industry to recover, which can only happen when New York reopens,” Aron said. 

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