Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

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A fire destroyed a house. The homeowner’s insurer agreed to pay for the damages resulting from the fire, then sued the contractor who installed the fireplace several years earlier, claiming negligence. The contractor tendered defense of the action to its liability insurer, asserting that even though the fire occurred after the relevant policy periods ended, there was a possibility of coverage because the fire may have been the result of ongoing damage to the wood in the chimney during one or more policy periods due to the exposure of that wood to excessive heat from the chimney every time a fire was burned in the fireplace. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal’s review was whether, under the standard language of the commercial general liability policy at issue here, did the liability insurer have a duty to defend the contractor? After review of that policy, the Court answered “yes” and reversed the trial court’s judgment that concluded otherwise. View "Tidwell Enterprises v. Financial Pacific Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The parties are involved in a dispute over a 12-year commercial lease of office space in Baltimore, Maryland. NCO, the lessee, claims that it properly exercised a right of early termination of the lease and that, during the course of the lease, it was overcharged for rent based on erroneous calculations of the space’s square footage. Montgomery Park, the lessor, claims that NCO failed to satisfy the lease’s specific conditions for early termination and that NCO now owes rent for the remainder of the lease term. The court reversed the district court’s ruling that NCO effectively exercised the right of early termination, and affirmed its ruling rejecting NCO’s overcharge claims. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings on Montgomery Park’s claim that NCO breached the lease agreement in failing to pay rent. View "NCO Financial Systems, Inc. v. Montgomery Park, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Michael Rose and RC&D, Inc. filed suit against Defendants Stephen Brusini and the law firm Orson & Brusini Ltd. alleging professional negligence and breach of contract. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that there was no evidence of proximate cause linking Defendants’ alleged negligence and any damages Plaintiffs may have suffered. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding that Rose submitted sufficient competent evidence to preclude the entry of summary judgment for defendants on a question of fact relating to Defendants’ liability. Remanded. View "Rose v. Brusini" on Justia Law

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Appellants Shawn and Heather Montee, Shawn Montee, Inc., and ABCO Wood Recycling, LLC appealed, among other things, the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Respondent Robert Wolford. Appellants argued the district court erred in ruling that certain promissory notes granted to Wolford by Appellants were clear and unambiguous and that under the terms of those notes Appellants were in default and Wolford was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Appellants also contended that several of their motions were erroneously denied, including a motion to continue, a motion for examination of Wolford, a motion to amend or alter judgment, and various motions to quash. Furthermore, Appellants appealed the district court’s order of contempt entered against them. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings. The Court found that the district court erred in its grant of summary judgment as to some notes over others; vacated summary judgment with respect to those notes, and remanded for the district court to determine when payments were due, when interest was to accrue, and whether the interest rate was per month or per annum. The Court affirmed the district court in all other respects. View "Wolford v. Montee" on Justia Law

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Service Employees International Union, Local 509 (Union) brought a declaratory judgment action against the Department of Mental Health (DMH) maintaining that certain contracts DMH made with private vendors were “privatization contracts” subject to the requirements of the Pacheco Law. The Union sought a declaration invalidating the contracts because DMH did not comply with the statutory prerequisites of the Pacheco Law. The case was dismissed. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case. On remand, DMH again successfully moved to dismiss the Union’s declaratory judgment action on the basis that it was moot because the initial contracts had expired and the remaining extant renewal contracts were immune from challenge by virtue of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 7, 53. The Union appealed, asserting that because the non-compliant initial contracts were invalid under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 7, 54, so too were any renewal contracts made pursuant to them. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of dismissal, holding that the protection afforded renewal contracts by section 53 is not extended to those renewal contracts made pursuant to timely challenged and subsequently invalidated privatization contracts under section 54. View "Service Employees International Union, Local 509 v. Department of Mental Health" on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellants Ultegra Financial, its CEO Muhammad Howard, (collectively Ultegra Defendants) and Clive Funding, Inc., appealed a district court’s order denying their motion to compel arbitration. In 2013, Ragab entered into business relationship with the Ultegra Defendants. The parties had six agreements. The agreements contained conflicting arbitration provisions; the conflicts involved: (1) which rules would govern, (2) how the arbitrator would be selected, (3) the notice required to arbitrate, and (4) who would be entitled to attorneys’ fees and on what showing. In 2015, Ragab sued the Ultegra Defendants for misrepresentation and for violating several consumer credit repair statutes. The district court found that Ragab’s claims fell within the scope of all six agreements. The Ultegra Defendants moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied the motion to compel, concluding that there was no actual agreement to arbitrate as there was no meeting of the minds as to how claims that implicated the numerous agreements would be arbitrated. The Ultegra Defendants appealed that finding, and seeing no reversible error in the judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ragab v. Howard" on Justia Law

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In the 1990s, Stryker purchased a Pfizer subsidiary that made orthopedic products, including the “Uni-knee” artificial joint. It was later discovered that those devices were sterilized using gamma rays, which caused polyethylene to degrade. If implanted past their five-year shelf-life, the knees could fail. Expired Uni-Knees were implanted in patients. Stryker, facing individual product-liability claims and potentially liable to Pfizer, sought defense and indemnification under a $15 million XL “commercial umbrella” policy, and a TIG “excess liability” policy that kicked in after the umbrella policy was fully “exhausted.” XL denied coverage, arguing that the Uni-Knee claims were “known or suspected” before the inception of the policy. Stryker filed lawsuits against the insurers, then unilaterally settled its individual product-liability claims for $7.6 million. Stryker was adjudicated liable to Pfizer for $17.7 million. About 10 years later, the Sixth Circuit held that XL was obliged to provide coverage. XL paid out the Pfizer judgment first, exhausting coverage limits. TIG declined to pay the remaining $7.6 million, arguing that Stryker failed to obtain “written consent” at the time the settlements were made. Stryker claimed that the policy was latently ambiguous because XL satisfied the Pfizer judgment first, Stryker was forced to present its settlements to TIG years after they were made. The district court granted Stryker summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding the contract unambiguous in requiring consent. View "Stryker Corp. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Bugs “R” Us, LLC (BRU) appealed the denial of its motion to compel arbitration in an action filed by Autumn McCants for negligent and/or wanton termite inspection of a house she purchased. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that BRU met its burden of establishing the existence of an arbitration contract between the parties. Furthermore, the arbitration provision dictated that the issues McCants raised about the applicability of the Federal Arbitration Act to this dispute, whether her claims were subsumed under the arbitration provision, and whether she was bound by the arbitration provision had to be submitted to an arbitrator for determination. Therefore, the trial court's order denying RU's motion to compel arbitration was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Bugs "R" Us, LLC v. McCants" on Justia Law

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Advanced Specialty Pharmacy LLC, Meds I.V., Inc. (collectively referred to as "Meds I.V."), and several others were sued by individuals asserting various wrongful-death and personal-injury claims. Meds I.V. was insured by Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Company. Pharmacists Mutual filed an interpleader complaint in the action and submitted $4 million to the circuit court, which Pharmacists Mutual alleged was the limits to Meds I.V.'s insurance policies with it, and requested that the circuit court divide the insurance moneys among the claimants. The claimants alleged that the policy limits were $7 million. The parties filed cross-motions for a summary judgment, and the circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of the claimants. The Supreme Court affirmed the summary judgment insofar as it held that the general aggregate limit applied to limit Pharmacists Mutual's liability to $4 million. However, the Court reversed the circuit court's judgment insofar as it held that the products/completed-work-hazard aggregate limit also applied to expand Pharmacists Mutual's liability by $3 million to $7 million. The case was remanded back to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Pharmacists Mutual Ins. Co. v. Advanced Specialty Pharmacy, LLC" on Justia Law

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This action arose from the murder of a teenager by her two friends. The victim’s parents filed a wrongful death action against the killers and the two women they lived with, Tara Clendenen and Rachel Shoaf. Clendenen and Shoaf were insured under homeowner’s insurance policies issued by American National Property and Casualty Company (ANPAC) and Erie Insurance Property and Casualty Company (Erie). Although not parties to the state court action, ANPAC and Erie filed declaratory judgment actions in the federal district court seeking a determination that the homeowner’s insurance policies did not provide coverage for the claims being asserted in the complaint and that the insurers had no duty to defend or indemnify the defendants. The federal court found that it was unclear whether coverage was available to Sheaf and Clendenen in the state court action and certified questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held (1) the unambiguous intentional/criminal acts exclusions in the insurers’ policies precluded liability coverage to Clendenen and Shoaf for the claims in the underlying case because the murder was expected or intended by the killers, co-insureds under their respective policies; and (2) the unambiguous severability clauses in the insurers’ policies did not prevail over the unambiguous intentional/criminal acts exclusions. View "American National Property & Casualty Co. v. Clendenen" on Justia Law