Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss this case brought against him by Plaintiff, his previous employer, for lack of personal jurisdiction, holding that the district court did not err.Plaintiff brought this lawsuit against Defendant in the District of New Hampshire, alleging that he breached his employment contract and violated a non-solicitation of employees clause by encouraging three of Defendant's employees to quit their employment and join him at his new company. The district court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the requirements for personal jurisdiction were not met in this case. View "Vapotherm, Inc. v. Santiago" on Justia Law

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The co-tenancy provision in the parties’ lease required a shopping center to have either: (1) three anchor tenants; or (2) 60 percent of the space leased, and, if it did not, Tenant-respondent JoAnn Stores, LLC was permitted to pay “Substitute Rent.” In 2018, Jo-Ann informed JJD it intended to start paying Substitute Rent effective July 1, 2018, because the co-tenancy provision was not met after two anchor tenants closed. Landlord-appellant JJD-HOV Elk Grove, LLC (JJD) responded that the co-tenancy provision was an unenforceable penalty under the holding in Grand Prospect Partners, L.P. v. Ross Dress for Less, Inc., 232 Cal.App.4th 1332 (2015). Jo-Ann contended Grand Prospect was distinguishable and the co-tenancy provision was enforceable. JJD and Jo-Ann filed competing complaints for declaratory relief and cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court found the co-tenancy provision was enforceable, and thus granted Jo- Ann’s motion, denied JJD’s, and entered judgment accordingly. JJD appealed. The Court of Appeal declined to follow the rule announced in Grand Prospect here, and instead held that this case was governed by the general rule that courts enforce contracts as written. The Court therefore agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the co-tenancy provision at issue in this case was enforceable, and affirmed the judgment. View "JJD-HOV Elk Grove, LLC v. Jo-Ann Stores" on Justia Law

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Torgerson Properties, Inc. ("TPI") develops and operates hotels, restaurants, and conference centers in Minnesota and Florida. It was covered by an all-risk property insurance policy issued by Continental Casualty Co. from May 1, 2019, through May 1, 2020. the policy’s Business Interruption and Civil Authority/Ingress-Egress provisions. The Business Interruption clause “covers against loss resulting from necessary interruption of business caused by direct physical loss of or damage to covered property.”   TPI filed a claim under the policy for lost business income during the COVID pandemic. After Continental denied the claim, TPI sued for breach of contract. Continental moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted Continental’s motion, and TPI appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court was correct to dismiss TPI’s breach of contract action for failure to state a claim.   The court reasoned that insurance provisions covering “direct physical loss of or damage to property” are not triggered unless “there [is] some physicality to the loss or damage of property.” Oral Surgeons, P.C. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 2 F.4th 1141 (8th Cir. 2021) (relying on Minnesota law).  TPI tried to distinguish this case from Oral Surgeons by alleging that the virus was actually present on its property. However, TPI failed to show that causal link. The contamination did not cause TPI’s business interruption; the shutdown orders did. TPI would have been subject to the exact same restrictions even if its premises weren’t contaminated. And the cause of TPI’s business interruption—governmental orders alone—is not a direct physical loss. View "Torgerson Properties, Inc. v. Continental Casualty Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff suffered serious injuries in an automobile accident and won over $12 million in a suit against the other driver. To recover the judgment, Plaintiff sued that driver’s insurance company on the theory that it acted in bad faith toward its insureds. The jury returned a verdict in the insurer’s favor, but Plaintiff argued that the district court abused its discretion by failing to give his proposed jury instruction.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling explaining that the district court’s instruction omitted the state law relevant to this theory of liability. The court explained that the district court instructed the jury on bad faith resulting from the failure to settle a claim. But Florida law provides—and Plaintiff argued at trial—that bad faith is also present when an insurance company fails to advise an insured about settlement offers and likely litigation outcomes. Further, Plaintiff’s proposed jury instruction correctly stated the legal basis for his failure-to-advise theory of liability, and the district court’s failure to give that instruction to the jury caused him prejudice. View "Dustin C. Brink v. Direct General Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff’s spouse was a medical doctor employed by NCHMD, Inc., which is a subsidiary of NCH Healthcare System, Inc. NCHMD’s human resources staff helped the spouse complete enrollment paperwork for life insurance benefits through an ERISA plan. Plaintiff was the primary beneficiary under the plan, and NCH Healthcare was the named plan administrator. After Plaintiff’s spouse died, Plaintiff filed a claim for benefits with the plan’s insurance company. The insurance company refused to pay any supplemental benefits because it had never received the form. Plaintiff sued NCHMD and NCH Healthcare, asserting a claim under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(a)(1)(B). The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss and denied Plaintiff leave to amend.   On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. The court wrote that at issue is whether Section 1132(a)(3) creates a cause of action for an ERISA beneficiary to recover monetary benefits lost due to a fiduciary’s breach of fiduciary duty in the plan enrollment process? The court answered “yes”, and explained that under the court’s precedents, a court may order typical forms of equitable relief under Section 1132(a)(3). As the Supreme Court and many sister circuits have recognized, courts in equity could traditionally order an “equitable surcharge”— that a fiduciary pay a beneficiary for losses caused by the fiduciary’s breach of fiduciary duty. Accordingly, the court held that a beneficiary of an ERISA plan can bring a lawsuit under Section 1132(a)(3) against a fiduciary to recover benefits that were lost due to the fiduciary’s breach of its duties. View "Raniero Gimeno v. NCHMD, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-homeowners Dylan O’Malley-Joyce and Eileen Nash appealed a superior court order granting the summary judgment motion filed by defendant Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company (the insurer), on their claims for damages and declaratory relief. The insured residence was damaged by two leaks — one in November 2017 and the other in early January 2018. The homeowners filed claims under the policy as to both leaks. Thereafter, the parties disagreed about the cost and scope of repairs. In November 2018, the insurer sought to settle the parties’ dispute by providing a contractor “who [was] willing and able to complete the work” and by “paying up to the replacement cost figures on the [contractor’s] estimates less the deductibles for each of the claims.” The policy’s appraisal provision provided, in pertinent part, that if the parties “fail to agree on the amount of loss, either may demand an appraisal of the loss.” Because the parties were unable to reach an agreement, the insurer demanded that they participate in the appraisal process set forth in the homeowners’ policy. In November 2019, the homeowners brought a two-claim complaint against the insurer. In one claim, the homeowners sought a declaratory judgment, and in the other, they sought damages for “breach of contract, bad faith, statutory violations.” Because, on appeal, the homeowners did not contest the grant of summary judgment on either their claim for declaratory judgment or their claim that the insurer violated certain statutes, the New Hampshire Supreme Court focused solely on their claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Because the homeowners filed neither an objection to the insurer’s summary judgment motion nor a motion to reconsider the trial court’s order, the Supreme Court determined they failed to preserve their appellate arguments for review. Nonetheless, the Court reviewed their arguments for plain error, and finding no plain error, the Court affirmed. View "O'Malley-Joyce v. Travelers Home & Marine Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals upholding that trial court's determination that the plaintiff homeowner's award of attorneys fees and costs under Tenn. Code Ann. 20-12-119(c) was limited to those incurred after the date the defendant contractor filed an amended countercomplaint, holding that the lower courts erred.Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a contract for the renovation of a residence. Plaintiff later filed a complaint alleging breach of contract and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Defendant filed an amended countercomplaint asserting breach of contract. The trial court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims and then dismissed the countercomplaint. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the attorney fee and costs award granted by the trial court. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's award of attorney fees and costs, holding that the fees and costs recoverable by Plaintiff in connection with the dismissal of Defendant’s breach of contract claim are not limited to those incurred after the amended countercomplaint was actually filed. View "Donovan v. Hastings" on Justia Law

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The University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP) is a defined benefit plan. In 1999, the University’s President addressed the recruitment and retention impacts of federal tax law: for employees hired after a certain date, a “maximum compensation amount that can be used for retirement calculations”—then, $160,000—such that employees earning more than the maximum “cannot receive benefits based on the full compensation that UCRP would otherwise use for benefit calculations.” The President recommended that the University take advantage of recent amendments to the Internal Revenue Code making it possible for public institutions to “mitigate” the limitations. The Regents adopted the 1999 Resolution, establishing restoration plans. The President’s Office drafted a Plan amendment, Appendix E, to implement the Resolution. Appendix E provided for Regents’ unlimited right to amend or terminate Appendix E,. In 2007, following a moratorium, the IRS approved Appendix E. The University did not implement Appendix E.Retired employees sued on behalf of themselves and similarly situated Plan members who retired between January 1, 2000, and March 29, 2012, alleging impairment of contract, promissory estoppel, equitable estoppel, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and breach of the covenant of good faith. The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those claims. The 1999 Resolution expressly contemplated further review and action before any employee benefit was provided, and did not clearly evince an intent to create contractual rights. View "Broome v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Between 2004 and 2008, respondents HEI Resources, Inc. (“HEI”), and the Heartland Development Corporation (“HEDC”), both corporations whose principal place of business is Colorado, formed, capitalized, and operated eight separate joint ventures related to the exploration and drilling of oil and gas wells. They solicited investors for what they called Los Ojuelos Joint Ventures by cold calling thousands of individuals from all over the country. Those who joined the ventures became parties to an agreement organized as a general partnership under the Texas Revised Partnership Act. In 2009, the Securities Commissioner for the State of Colorado (“the Commissioner”) initiated this enforcement action, alleging that respondents had violated the Colorado Securities Act (CSA) by, among other things, offering and selling unregistered securities to investors nationwide through the use of unlicensed sales representatives and in the guise of general partnerships. The Commissioner alleged that HEDC and HEI used the general partnership form deliberately in order to avoid regulation. Each of the Commissioner’s claims required that the Commissioner prove that the general partnerships were securities, so the trial was bifurcated to permit resolution of that threshold question. THe Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this matter to determine how courts should evaluate whether an interest in a “general partnership” is an “investment contract” under the CSA. The Court concluded that when faced with an assertion that an interest in a general partnership is an investment contract and thus within the CSA’s definition of a “security,” the plaintiff bears the burden of proving this claim by a preponderance of the evidence. No presumption beyond that burden applies. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment on the question of whether courts should apply a “strong presumption,” and the Court remanded the case to the trial court for further findings. View "Chan v. HEI Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant on her counterclaim for breach of contract in this legal malpractice lawsuit, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the parties entered into a lawfully enforceable settlement agreement.The underlying lawsuit arose after the death of Plaintiff's mother when Defendant failed timely to file an application with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel and a wrongful death lawsuit. Defendant filed a counterclaim for breach of contract, alleging that the parties had entered into a valid agreement to settle the legal malpractice claim for $100,000. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, concluding that the settlement agreement was enforceable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact about whether the parties had a setting of the funds on the issue of who was settling and who would be bound by the settlement, precluding summary judgment. View "Kappes v. Rhodes" on Justia Law