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Lockdowns, Landlords, & Litigation: Abercrombie & Fitch Flips The Script on Simon Property Group Inc.

Novel litigation between commercial property owners and tenants arises from COVID-19 lockdowns. Typically, owners sue for nonpayment of rent. But in Franklin County, Ohio, a large retail tenant turned the tables and sued the owner to recoup payments.

Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F), Columbus-based apparel retailer, recently filed suit against one of the nation’s largest landlords, Simon Property Group Inc. A&F, which leases properties from Simon, alleges that Simon “wrongfully extracted” rent payments on those properties during the lockdowns that covered the nation. The amount of rent and number of stores impacted by the lawsuit is not disclosed, but according to public filings, A&F demands return of all rent payments to Simon during a specified period.

A&F essentially argues that it was not obligated to pay rent because it was locked out of its premises. More specifically, A&F argues that “the government-mandated closures amounted to ‘prohibitions’ under the terms of the lease agreements such that A&F was, and is, entitled to an abatement of any and all rent and other charges” during the lockdown. A&F maintains that Simon’s mere demand for payment during the lockdown constitutes a breach of contract, and any/all payments remitted were “under protest” and should be returned.  

Seeking to gain leverage by adopting an aggressive posture is a classic litigation technique that is now being applied in these unprecedented times. Whether the tactic will be fruitful depends on innumerable variables that begin with the contract language between the parties. Given the size and sophistication of the litigants, copycat actions and/or landmark precedents are likely to result.

For more information, please contact our Real Estate or Litigation teams.

To stay updated, please visit our Resources page regularly.

Vaccination Considerations for Employers

Today, three Covid-19 vaccines have tested as highly effective (90%+ efficacy) and are advancing in the process for emergency use. This is especially welcome news in Ohio, which has skyrocketing cases and our strategic response has been to turn the entire state into the small town of Bomont with strict curfews and bans on social gatherings.

Did You Receive More than $750,000 in Provider Relief Funds?

The Provider Relief Funds (“PRF”) - authorized under the CARES Act - has been a vital tool for health care providers during the COVID-19 public health emergency. These funds have allowed providers to stay open and continue to offer care during these pressing times. While helpful, these funds do come with several important obligations. First, fund recipients are required to comply with certain record-keeping requirements as well as comply with certain balance billing prohibitions. See our Client Alert. Second, fund recipients are required to report their intent, use of funds, and other data elements, which helps promote transparency to the federal government. Please see our Client Alert on provider relief fund reporting requirements. Third, and perhaps a new concept for many providers, fund recipients of more than $750,000 must undergo a “single audit” to ensure program compliance and appropriate use of funds.

Important Updates Every Provider Should Know: Information Blocking

In December 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act (“Cures Act”) which: (1) authorized funding for the National Institutes of Health to promote medical research and drug development, (2) implemented provisions aimed at addressing the prevention and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse, and (3) reformed certain standards of the Medicare program and federal tax laws to foster healthcare access and quality improvement.

PPP Update: Loan Necessity Questionnaires

On October 26, 2020, the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) published a notice in the Federal Register which foreshadowed the release of two new forms seeking information from for-profit and nonprofit organizations that received Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans of $2 million or more. If approved, the SBA would use information from these forms to evaluate and determine whether economic uncertainty made a PPP loan request necessary.

Exposure to COVID-19 Flow Chart

Exposure to COVID-19 Flow Chart