Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries
Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Zayo Group, LLC
In this case between Norfolk Southern Railway Company and Zayo Group, LLC, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment on the pleadings. The dispute arose from a lease agreement between the parties, in which Zayo leased a utility duct from Norfolk Southern. When the time came to renew the lease, the parties could not agree on the renewal rent and referred the dispute to three appraisers, as specified in the lease. The appraisers decided the rent by a two-to-one vote, but Zayo refused to pay the rent, arguing that the decision was not unanimous. Norfolk Southern sued for breach of the lease, and the district court entered judgment for Norfolk Southern, ordering Zayo to pay the rental amount determined by the appraisers. Zayo appealed, contending that the appraisers could determine the rent only by unanimous vote. The Fourth Circuit held that the lease's language was unambiguous and did not impose a unanimity requirement on the appraisers. Therefore, it found that Zayo breached the lease by refusing to pay the full amount determined by the appraisers. The court affirmed the district court's judgment, requiring Zayo to pay the rental amount determined by the appraisers. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Zayo Group, LLC" on Justia Law
Midtown Ventures, LLC v. Capone
The case revolved around a disagreement over a parking agreement related to a property owned by Midtown Ventures, LLC ("Midtown"). In 1999, restaurant owners Thomas and Teresa Capone ("the Capones") agreed with the Idaho Youth Ranch to allow the Capones’ customers to park in the Idaho Youth Ranch’s adjoining lot. In 2008, a group of nonprofit organizations, including the Capones and the Idaho Youth Ranch, signed an agreement to relocate the parking area to accommodate a proposed workforce housing project. However, the 2008 Agreement was not finalized, and the project was eventually abandoned. In 2018, Midtown purchased the Idaho Youth Ranch property and attempted to enforce the 2008 Agreement to relocate the parking area, but was unsuccessful. Midtown then sued the Capones for breach of contract and specific performance. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Capones, concluding that Midtown lacked standing to challenge the 2008 Agreement and that the agreement was unenforceable. On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed the lower court's decision, agreeing that the 2008 Agreement was merely an "agreement to agree" and not an enforceable contract. The court also held that Midtown had standing to bring the suit as a property owner, but failed to show that the 2008 Agreement was a valid or enforceable contract. It also found that Midtown waived its challenge to the district court’s evidentiary rulings and its argument that the district court erred in denying the equitable remedy of promissory estoppel. The Court concluded that the Capones are entitled to attorney fees on appeal. View "Midtown Ventures, LLC v. Capone" on Justia Law
Goldberg v. Pace University
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in the case of a student, Brett Goldberg, against Pace University. Goldberg, a graduate student in performing arts, sued Pace for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and violation of New York General Business Law § 349, following the university's decision to move classes online and postpone the performance of his play and a class due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court granted Pace's motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that Goldberg failed to sufficiently allege a breach given the university's published Emergency Closings provision and failed to identify a sufficiently specific promise under New York law of in-person instruction. The court also found that Goldberg's unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and § 349 claims were either duplicative or failed for similar reasons. On appeal, the Second Circuit agreed with the lower court, holding that the university's postponement and move to an online format were permitted by the Emergency Closings provision, thus affirming the district court's judgment. View "Goldberg v. Pace University" on Justia Law
Baglione v. Health Net of Cal.
Salvatore Baglione, insured under Health Net of California Inc. through his employer, the County of Santa Clara, brought a lawsuit against Health Net alleging breach of contract and bad faith. This followed Health Net's inconsistent authorization of a medication prescribed for Baglione's chronic condition. Health Net moved to compel arbitration of Baglione's claims based on an arbitration provision in the enrollment form Baglione had signed. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County denied Health Net's motion, finding that the agreement between Health Net and the County did not satisfy the disclosure requirements of Health and Safety Code section 1363.1, and therefore, the arbitration provision was unenforceable. Health Net appealed the decision.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Eight, affirmed the trial court's order. The appellate court ruled that the enrollment form did not comply with the requirements of section 1363.1. It found that the form was not clear in its disclosure of which disputes were subject to arbitration, particularly with references to additional documents and laws that did not pertain to the arbitration agreement. Furthermore, the form did not place the arbitration provision immediately before the signature line, as required by the statute. The court also agreed with the lower court that the agreement between Health Net and the County was non-compliant. It ruled that an arbitration agreement, which is part of a health plan, is not enforceable unless both the enrollment form and the County agreement are compliant. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court's order denying Health Net's motion to compel arbitration. View "Baglione v. Health Net of Cal." on Justia Law
A1A Burrito Works, Inc., et al v. Sysco Jacksonville, Inc.
In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, a group of Florida restaurants brought a lawsuit against Sysco Jacksonville, Inc., a food distribution company. The restaurants, which include A1A Burrito Works, Inc., A1A Burrito Works Taco Shop 2, Inc., and Juniper Beach Enterprises, Inc., alleged that Sysco violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) and breached their contracts when Sysco regularly delivered underweight boxes of poultry. The district court dismissed the restaurants' claims, ruling that the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) preempted their state law claims because their claims sought to impose on Sysco labeling requirements that are "in addition to, or different than" the requirements prescribed by federal law.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court agreed with the district court that the restaurants failed to show that their FDUTPA claim was not preempted by the PPIA. However, the court disagreed with the district court's dismissal of the restaurants' breach of contract claim. The court found that this claim, which argued that the restaurants did not receive the amount of poultry they paid for in accordance with their contracts with Sysco, was not preempted because it merely sought to enforce the parties' private agreements regarding the cost and weight of poultry packages and did not amount to a state imposing a labeling requirement inconsistent with federal regulations. View "A1A Burrito Works, Inc., et al v. Sysco Jacksonville, Inc." on Justia Law
Barber v. Bradford Aquatic
In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Montana, the plaintiff, Kevin Barber, appealed against his former employer, Bradford Aquatic Group, LLC, alleging wrongful termination. Bradford Aquatic Group, a North Carolina-based company, had employed Barber as a Regional Business Development Manager for its Rocky Mountain region, which includes Montana. The employment contract between Barber and the company included a choice-of-law and forum selection clause, specifying that any disputes arising from the agreement would be governed by North Carolina law and adjudicated in North Carolina courts.Barber, a resident of Montana, argued that Montana law should apply to his claims of wrongful discharge, breach of contract, and bad faith, and that the suit should be heard in Montana. The district court dismissed Barber's claims due to improper venue, based on the choice-of-law and forum selection clauses in the employment agreement.Upon review, the Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the choice-of-law provision in the employment agreement was valid and that North Carolina law should apply to Barber's claims. The court also upheld the validity of the forum selection clause, concluding that it is enforceable under North Carolina law. Therefore, the court determined that the dispute should be adjudicated in North Carolina, not Montana. View "Barber v. Bradford Aquatic" on Justia Law
BIELSKI V. COINBASE, INC.
Abraham Bielski, a user of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, brought a lawsuit alleging that Coinbase failed to investigate the unauthorized transfer of funds from his account. Coinbase attempted to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement in its User Agreement, which included a delegation provision stating that any dispute arising out of the agreement, including enforceability, should be decided by an arbitrator, not a court. Bielski argued that the delegation provision and arbitration agreement were unenforceable due to unconscionability. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a party must specifically reference and challenge the delegation provision for a court to consider it, and that a party may use the same arguments to challenge both the delegation provision and the arbitration agreement, as long as they articulate why the argument invalidates each specific provision. The court also held that when evaluating whether a delegation provision is unconscionable under California law, a court must interpret the provision in the context of the entire agreement, which may require examining the underlying agreement. After analyzing the Coinbase delegation provision in context, the court determined that it was not unconscionable. The court reversed the district court’s order denying Coinbase’s motion to compel arbitration. View "BIELSKI V. COINBASE, INC." on Justia Law
BBFM Engineers, Inc. v. McDonald
In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, the petitioner, Eric McDonald, an employee of a subcontractor, suffered injuries during the renovation of a high school. He sued Architects Alaska, Inc. and BBFM Engineers, Inc., alleging that they negligently failed to exercise reasonable care in the design, supervision, implementation, and specifications of the demolition of the renovation project. Before trial, the parties’ attorneys discussed the possibility of a settlement, and the defendants moved to enforce a “walk-away” settlement they claimed had been reached through email correspondence. McDonald, unrepresented at this point, did not file a substantive response to the defendants’ motion. The superior court granted the defendants’ motion and dismissed the case.About a year later, McDonald moved for relief from judgment under Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), arguing that he had never given his attorney authority to settle the case. A different superior court judge granted the motion, finding that factual issues precluded summary judgment on whether a settlement agreement existed, that the earlier dismissal was erroneous as a law matter, and that extraordinary circumstances otherwise entitled McDonald to Rule 60(b) relief. The defendants petitioned for review, and the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reversed the ruling on the ground that McDonald’s Rule 60(b) motion was not filed within a reasonable time. View "BBFM Engineers, Inc. v. McDonald" on Justia Law
Vang v. Xiong
In this case, two individuals, Tong Vang and Pa Kou Xiong, were in a relationship recognized by Hmong cultural customs but were not legally married. They had two children together. Upon their separation, Xiong sought repayment of $38,000, which she claimed were loans to Vang and his family. Vang disputed this and counterclaimed for damages. The Superior Court of the State of Alaska found in favor of Xiong, and Vang appealed.On appeal, Vang argued that the court should have applied a presumption that transfers of funds between close relatives are considered gifts rather than loans. However, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska rejected this argument because the parties were not legally married or in a domestic partnership, and they were not close relatives. Additionally, the court found that the record supported the lower court’s finding that Xiong intended the transfers of money to be loans.The court affirmed the lower court’s judgment, holding that the Superior Court did not err in treating the transfers as loans rather than gifts. The court found that Vang did not establish that he and Xiong were married, in a domestic partnership, or close relatives, which would have triggered the presumption that the transfers were gifts. Furthermore, the court found that the record supported the Superior Court's finding that Xiong intended the transfers of money to be loans. View "Vang v. Xiong" on Justia Law
Gibson Foundation, Inc. v. Norris
In this case, the Gibson Foundation, a charitable arm of Gibson Brands, sued Rob Norris and The Piano Mill Group, alleging that they breached a contract and bailment when they refused to return a piano that had been used by entertainer Liberace, upon Gibson Foundation's request. The piano was initially transferred from Gibson Brands to Norris and Piano Mill. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit concluded that the breach-of-bailment claim was not time-barred, reversing the lower court's decision. The court explained that a reasonable juror could find that Gibson Brands, the original owner of the piano, and Norris and Piano Mill had a mutual agreement where Gibson Brands would avoid storage costs by leaving the piano with Norris and Piano Mill, who would benefit from using the piano for promotional opportunities. Therefore, the six-year statute of limitations for certain contract claims applied, rather than the three-year limit for tort claims. However, the court affirmed the lower court's decision that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Gibson Foundation, or its predecessor in title, Gibson Brands, owned the piano in question, which is necessary to establish a valid contract or bailment. The court also affirmed the lower court's denial of summary judgment to Gibson Foundation on the breach of contract claim, noting that a reasonable juror could find that Gibson Brands had given the piano to Norris and Piano Mill as a gift. View "Gibson Foundation, Inc. v. Norris" on Justia Law