Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

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A teacher, who was involved in a car accident caused by a third party, sustained serious injuries. The teacher was covered under his employer’s self-insured healthcare plan, which stipulates that the employer has a right of reimbursement for medical expenses if a covered person receives a separate settlement. The employer paid for the teacher’s medical expenses and the teacher also received $500,000 in settlements from two separate insurers. The teacher requested that the employer waive its right to reimbursement twice, but the employer never agreed. Two years after the teacher notified the employer of his insurance settlements, the employer requested reimbursement and later sued him for breach of contract.The Superior Court of the State of Alaska granted summary judgment to the employer on the issue of whether the teacher breached the contract to reimburse the employer. The employer then moved for summary judgment on the amount of damages, providing an affidavit from its Plan Administrator and a claims ledger. The teacher opposed the motion, providing his own affidavit and a self-created spreadsheet in support of his argument that some of the medical costs paid by the employer were not associated with the accident. The court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment on contract damages.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment order regarding breach of contract, but held that the teacher raised a genuine dispute of material fact regarding damages. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the lower court’s summary judgment order regarding contract damages. View "Fischer v. Kenai Peninsula Borough School District" on Justia Law

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The case involves National Trust Insurance Company ("National Trust") and Whaley Construction Company, Inc. ("Whaley"). Whaley was a general contractor on a project at a Lockheed Martin facility. Smith's Inc. of Dothan ("Smith's of Dothan") was a subcontractor hired to install an HVAC system on the project, and Phoenix II Contracting, LLC ("Phoenix II"), was a subcontractor hired to install the roofing. Smith's of Dothan's subcontract with Whaley provided that Smith's of Dothan would name Whaley and Lockheed Martin as additional insureds on its liability policies. National Trust issued Smith's of Dothan a commercial-package policy and a commercial-liability umbrella policy ("the subject policies") through Harmon-DennisBradshaw, Inc. ("HDB"). Whaley and Lockheed Martin were additional insureds under the subject policies. Timothy L. Bozeman was working as a roof laborer on the Lockheed Martin project when he fell through an opening in the roof and was seriously injured. Bozeman sued Phoenix II and various fictitiously named defendants in the circuit court ("the state-court action").National Trust commenced a declaratory-judgment action in the Northern Division of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ("the federal-court action"). The complaint in the federal-court action named Smith's of Dothan, Whaley, Lockheed Martin, and the estate as respondents and included the following factual allegations: "25. A dispute has arisen as to whether Respondents Smith's [of Dothan], Whaley, and Lockheed [Martin] are entitled to a defense and indemnification as to the claims asserted in the Underlying Lawsuit. National Trust asserts that, based on the terms, conditions, and exclusions contained in the [subject] policies, Respondents Smith's [of Dothan], Whaley, and Lockheed [Martin] are not entitled to a defense in the underlying lawsuit or indemnification against settlement, award, or judgment therefrom.On April 14, 2023, Whaley filed a third-party complaint against National Trust and Continental Insurance Company ("Continental") in the state-court action. The third-party complaint alleged claims of breach of contract and bad-faith refusal to pay against National Trust and Continental. On May 4, 2023, National Trust filed a motion to dismiss in the state-court action. In the motion, National Trust asked the circuit court "to reconsider its previous Order … dated April 21, 2023, granting Whaley's motion for leave to file a third-party complaint against [National Trust] and further move[d] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss both of Whaley's claims asserted against [National Trust] in the Third-Party Complaint." In its motion, National Trust asserted that Whaley's claims against it were due to be dismissed "because they were compulsory counterclaims that Whaley was required to file in the federal[-court] action pursuant to § 65-440, Ala. Code 1975." On June 7, 2023, the circuit court entered an order denying National Trust's motion to dismiss the third-party complaint. National Trust subsequently filed a petition for a writ of mandamus asking this Court to direct the circuit court to enter an order dismissing National Trust from the state-court action.The Supreme Court of Alabama granted National Trust's mandamus petition in part and issued a writ directing the circuit court to enter an order dismissing Whaley's breach-of-contract and bad-faith claims in the state-court action that were based on National Trust's refusal to indemnify Whaley for the amount it had paid to settle Lockheed Martin's indemnity claim against it. However, the court denied the petition as to Whaley's contingent claims for a defense and indemnification. View "Ex parte National Trust Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In this case, plaintiffs Brandi Stiles and Abel Gorgita purchased a 2011 Kia Optima in April 2013. The car, manufactured and distributed by Kia Motors America, Inc., was sold with express warranties still in effect from the original sale. However, the car had serious defects, including issues with the transmission, electrical system, brakes, engine, suspension, and steering. Despite multiple attempts, Kia was unable to repair these defects. The plaintiffs argued that Kia failed to replace the car or make restitution as required under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.The trial court sustained Kia's demurrer, arguing that the remedies sought by the plaintiffs under the Song-Beverly Act only apply to new motor vehicles. The court relied on a previous case, Rodriguez v. FCA US, LLC, which held that a used motor vehicle with an unexpired warranty is not a "new motor vehicle" under the Song-Beverly Act. The court rejected another case, Jensen v. BMW of North America, Inc., which held that a previously owned motor vehicle with an unexpired warranty qualifies as a "new motor vehicle" under the Song-Beverly Act.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Six reversed the trial court's decision. The court held that a previously owned motor vehicle purchased with the manufacturer’s new car warranty still in effect is a “new motor vehicle” as defined by section 1793.22, subdivision (e)(2) of the Song-Beverly Act. Thus, the replace or refund remedy of section 1793.2, subdivision (d)(2) applies. The court rejected Kia's arguments and affirmed the interpretation of the Song-Beverly Act in Jensen v. BMW of North America, Inc. The court also modified the opinion to clarify the interpretation of the implied warranty provisions. View "Stiles v. Kia Motors America, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over a contract between a plaintiff, Pamela Phillips, and the defendant, Charlotte Metro Credit Union. In 2014, Phillips opened a checking account with the Credit Union and agreed to a standard membership agreement. This agreement included a "Notice of Amendments" provision, which allowed the Credit Union to change the terms of the agreement upon notice to Phillips. In 2021, the Credit Union amended its membership agreement to require arbitration for certain disputes and to waive members' right to file class actions. Phillips did not opt out of this amendment within the given 30-day window. Later that year, Phillips filed a class action complaint against the Credit Union for the collection of overdraft fees on accounts that were never overdrawn. The Credit Union responded by filing a motion to stay the action and compel arbitration.The trial court denied the Credit Union's motion to stay and compel arbitration, concluding that the "Notice of Amendments" provision did not permit the Credit Union to unilaterally add an arbitration provision. The Credit Union appealed this decision to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court's determination and remanded the case to the trial court to stay the action pending arbitration.The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court concluded that the Arbitration Amendment was within the universe of terms of the contract between the parties, and thus complies with the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and does not render the contract illusory. As such, the Arbitration Amendment is a binding and enforceable agreement between Phillips and the Credit Union. View "Canteen v. Charlotte Metro Credit Union" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Coinbase, Inc., a cryptocurrency exchange platform, and its users. The users had agreed to two contracts with Coinbase. The first contract, the User Agreement, contained an arbitration provision stating that an arbitrator must decide all disputes, including whether a disagreement is arbitrable. The second contract, the Official Rules for a promotional sweepstakes, contained a forum selection clause stating that California courts have sole jurisdiction over any controversies regarding the promotion. The users filed a class action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that the sweepstakes violated various California laws. Coinbase moved to compel arbitration based on the User Agreement’s arbitration provision. The District Court denied the motion, ruling that the Official Rules’ forum selection clause controlled the dispute. The Ninth Circuit affirmed this decision.The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the Ninth Circuit's decision. The Court held that when parties have agreed to two contracts—one sending arbitrability disputes to arbitration, and the other either explicitly or implicitly sending arbitrability disputes to the courts—a court must decide which contract governs. The Court rejected Coinbase's arguments that the Ninth Circuit should have applied the severability principle and that the Ninth Circuit erroneously held that the Official Rules’ forum selection clause superseded the User Agreement’s arbitration provision. The Court also dismissed Coinbase's concern that its ruling would invite chaos by facilitating challenges to delegation clauses. The Court concluded that a court, not an arbitrator, must decide whether the parties’ first agreement was superseded by their second. View "Coinbase v. Suski" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the interpretation of a multi-vehicle insurance policy. The appellants, Mark and Karen Kuhn, were involved in a fatal accident with a semi-truck insured by the appellee, Owners Insurance Company. The Kuhns sought a declaration that the $1 million liability limits for each of the seven vehicles covered under the policy could be aggregated or "stacked" for a total of $7 million in coverage for the accident, despite an "anti-stacking" provision in the policy.The trial court ruled in favor of the Kuhns, finding the policy ambiguous and thus allowing for the stacking of the liability limits. However, the appellate court reversed this decision, holding that the policy's anti-stacking clause was unambiguous and should be enforced as written.The Supreme Court of the State of Illinois affirmed the appellate court's judgment. The court found that the insurance policy, when read as a whole, unambiguously provided a $1 million per accident liability limit and prohibited stacking the liability limits of each insured vehicle. The court rejected the Kuhns' argument that the policy was ambiguous due to the separate listing of liability limits for each vehicle insured. The court held that the policy's anti-stacking provision, in conjunction with the declarations pages, clearly indicated that the limits could not be aggregated. View "Kuhn v. Owners Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over a lease agreement between Tera, L.L.C., and Rice Drilling D, L.L.C., and Gulfport Energy Corporation. The lease granted Rice Drilling and Gulfport Energy certain mineral rights in the geological formations known as the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale beneath Tera’s land. The dispute arose when Tera claimed that the defendants had intentionally drilled six wells into the Point Pleasant formation, which Tera argued was not included in the lease agreement.The trial court awarded summary judgment to Tera, concluding that the lease agreement clearly limited the rights granted to the defendants to the Marcellus and Utica formations and reserved rights to all other formations. The court also found that the defendants had trespassed in bad faith, and a jury awarded Tera over $40 million in damages.The Court of Appeals for Belmont County affirmed the trial court's decision. The court concluded that the lease language was unambiguous and that the phrase "Utica Shale" had a technical stratigraphic meaning that did not include the Point Pleasant formation.The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the lower courts' decisions. The court found that the lease agreement was ambiguous because it did not clearly establish whether the Point Pleasant was or was not to be considered part of the Utica Shale. The court concluded that resolving the meaning of ambiguous terms in a contract is a matter of factual determination for the fact-finder. Therefore, the court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Tera, L.L.C. v. Rice Drilling D, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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The case involves BitGo Holdings, Inc. and Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd., who entered into a merger agreement. BitGo, a technology company, was required to submit audited financial statements to Galaxy, the acquirer, by a specified date. When BitGo submitted the financial statements, Galaxy claimed they were deficient because they did not apply recently published guidance from the Securities and Exchange Commission’s staff. BitGo disagreed, but submitted a second set of financial statements. Galaxy found fault with the second submission and terminated the merger agreement. BitGo then sued Galaxy for wrongful repudiation and breach of the merger agreement.The Court of Chancery sided with Galaxy and dismissed the complaint. The court found that the financial statements submitted by BitGo did not comply with the requirements of the merger agreement, providing Galaxy with a valid basis to terminate the agreement.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Delaware reversed the decision of the Court of Chancery. The Supreme Court found that the definition of the term “Company 2021 Audited Financial Statements” in the merger agreement was ambiguous. The court concluded that both parties had proffered reasonable interpretations of the merger agreement’s definition. Therefore, the court remanded the case for the consideration of extrinsic evidence to resolve this ambiguity. View "BitGo Holdings, Inc. v. Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd., et al." on Justia Law

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The case involves Puerto Rico Fast Ferries LLC ("Fast Ferries") and Mr. Cade, LLC and SeaTran Marine, LLC ("SeaTran") (collectively, "defendants-appellees"). Fast Ferries had entered into a Master Time Charter Agreement with Mr. Cade, LLC to charter the motor vessel Mr. Cade and procure a licensed crew. The agreement contained mediation and forum-selection clauses. When the final Short Form expired, Fast Ferries returned the vessel to its home port in Louisiana. A year later, Fast Ferries filed a complaint against Mr. Cade, LLC and SeaTran alleging breach of contract and liability pursuant to culpa in contrahendo. The defendants-appellees moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the Master Agreement was still in effect and required a written agreement for the charter of M/V Mr. Cade.The district court granted the motion to dismiss in part, concluding that the Master Agreement did not contain a termination date and remained in effect. Therefore, the contract's mediation and forum-selection clauses were binding on the parties. However, the district court did not address Fast Ferries' argument that SeaTran was not a signatory of the agreement and, therefore, could not invoke the mediation and forum-selection clauses contained therein.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's order on the defendants-appellees' motion to dismiss. The court held that the Master Agreement was still in effect and that SeaTran, despite being a non-signatory, could enforce the Master Agreement's mediation and forum-selection clauses. The court reasoned that Fast Ferries' claims against SeaTran were necessarily intertwined with the Master Agreement, and thus, Fast Ferries was equitably estopped from avoiding the mediation and forum-selection clauses with respect to SeaTran. View "Puerto Rico Fast Ferries LLC v. SeaTran Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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Latigo Oil & Gas, Inc., an Oklahoma corporation, filed a lawsuit against BP America Production Company, a Delaware corporation, to enforce its preferential right to purchase certain mineral interests that BP had offered for sale as part of a package deal to a third party. Prior to trial, Latigo requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief to prevent BP from selling the interests to the third-party buyer pending trial. The trial court granted Latigo's request for preliminary injunctive relief.The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the evidence did not show Latigo was likely to succeed on the merits. The court held that BP did not owe Latigo a duty to provide a good-faith allocation of value to the interests burdened by Latigo's preferential right. It found that whether the allocations provided by BP were inflated as alleged by Latigo was irrelevant, as the notices provided by BP met the terms of the operating agreements.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma granted certiorari and held that the trial court's grant of injunctive relief was not an abuse of discretion. The court noted that while there was no binding precedent on whether an allocation of value within a package deal must be made in good faith, substantial support for Latigo's position could be found in both Oklahoma precedent and in other jurisdictions. The court affirmed the trial court's decision to grant preliminary injunctive relief and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "LATIGO OIL & GAS v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION CO." on Justia Law