Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the determination of the trial court that Jane Doe could compel her legal guardian (Guardian) to arbitrate her claims against it and affirmed the trial court's order compelling Guardian to arbitrate as to the remaining defendants, holding that this Court declines to adopt any alternative theories to the doctrine of equitable estoppel.After Jane had been living at Carmel Senior Living (CSL) for a few months, Guardian filed a complaint against CSL, CSL's management company and one of its employees, and Certiphi Screening, the company CSL had hired to run background checks on new employees, alleging that Jane had been sexually abused. The trial court granted CSL's and Certiphi's motions to compel arbitration under the arbitration agreement in the residency contract, determining that the agreement covered CSL under and agency theory and that equitable estoppel mandated arbitration of Guardian's claims against Certiphi. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Certiphi was not one of the third-party beneficiaries provided for in the arbitration agreement and could not meet the requirements of equitable estoppel; and (2) this Court declines to endorse any alternative equitable estoppel theories. View "Doe v. Carmel Operator, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this insurance dispute, the First Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance, holding that the arguments on appeal brought by Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) were unavailing.An accident that occurred in Florida damaged a Toyota Highlander insured by Ameriprise and a Lamborghini insured by GEICO and injured the driver of the Highlander. Ameriprise rescinded coverage, alleging that its insureds breached their obligations under the policy. Ameriprise brought this suit seeking declaratory relief in federal district court to approve the company's rescission and to confirm that Ameriprise had satisfied its compulsory coverage requirements under Massachusetts law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ameriprise. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in finding that Ameriprise could rescind the insureds' coverage as a matter of law because the insureds' misrepresentation of certain information breached the insureds' duty to inform Ameriprise about about dates to the Highlander's principal place of garaging and customary drivers; and (2) Ameriprise was not estopped from rescinding the insureds' coverage, and GEICO's waiver arguments failed as a matter of law. View "IDS Property Casualty Insurance Co. v. Government Employees Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Kathleen Melaas appealed a district court order granting a motion to compel arbitration and dismissing her complaint against Diamond Resorts U.S. Collection Development, LLC. She alleged Diamond Resorts offered vacation and timeshare packages, she attended a sales meeting with a Diamond Resorts representative, the sales meeting lasted approximately five hours, and she asked to leave the meeting on at least one occasion and Diamond Resorts refused to allow her to leave. She claimed Diamond Resorts knew she was a diabetic and experienced fatigue and confusion, Diamond Resorts knew she was a vulnerable adult subject to a durable power of attorney for financial management, and Diamond Resorts would not allow her to leave the sales meeting until she signed the timeshare agreement. Melaas asserted she lacked the capacity to enter into the agreement, Diamond Resorts used high-pressure and abusive sales tactics and knowledge of her medical condition to unduly influence and coerce her into signing the agreement, and any consent was obtained by duress and menace. After a hearing, the district court granted Diamond Resorts’ motion to compel arbitration and dismissed Melaas’ complaint. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that the forum selection clause in section 17 of the contract was not part of the arbitration agreement. The forum selection clause stated, “This Agreement is governed by Nevada law without regard to Nevada’s choice of law rules. You must bring any legal action in Clark County, Nevada.” When the term “Agreement” was used in the contract, the Court found it referred to the entire contract and not the arbitration agreement. To the extent Diamond Resorts argued the action should have been brought in Nevada, it was a venue issue and not a jurisdictional issue, and the right could be waived. The issue of improper venue was waived if it was omitted from a motion to dismiss or if it was not made by motion or included in the responsive pleading. On remand, if any of the parties argue the case must be dismissed under the forum selection clause, the district court must first determine whether a contract exists. If the court determines a contract exists, it could then consider the forum selection clause issue, including whether the issue was waived. The order compelling arbitration and dismissing Melaas' complaint was reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Melaas v. Diamond Resorts U.S. Collection Development" on Justia Law

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R & F Financial Services, LLC, appealed a district court order dismissing its claims against Cudd Pressure Control, Inc., and RPC, Inc., and granting Cudd’s and RPC’s counterclaims and cross claims. North American Building Solutions, LLC (“NABS”) and Cudd Pressure Control, Inc. (“Cudd”) entered into an agreement where Cudd would lease from NABS 60 temporary housing modules for employee housing. The terms of the Lease required Cudd, at its sole expense, to obtain any conditional use permits, variances or zoning approvals “required by any local, city, township, county or state authorities, which are necessary for the installation and construction of the modules upon the Real Property.” The Lease was set to commence following substantial completion of the installation of all the modules and was to expire 60 months following the commencement date. NABS assigned its interest in 28 modules under lease to R & F; NABS sold the modules to R & F by bill of sale. Cudd accepted the final 32 modules from NABS, to which R & F was not a party. RPC, as the parent company of Cudd, guaranteed Cudd’s performance of payment obligations to R & F under the Lease. The Lease was for a set term and did not contain an option for Cudd to purchase the modules at the expiration of that set term. At the time R & F purchased NABS’s interest in the Lease, it understood the purpose of the Lease was to fulfill Cudd’s need for employee housing. The County required a conditional use permit for workforce housing, and Cudd had been issued a permit allowing for the use of the modules as workforce housing. The City of Williston annexed the Property within its corporate limits. Thereafter, the City adopted a resolution that declared all workforce housing was temporary and extension of permits was subject to review. The City modified the expiration date policy and extended all approvals for workforce housing facilities to December 31, 2015, such that all permits would expire the same day. In December 2015, Cudd successfully extended its permit for the maximum time permitted to July 1, 2016. Cudd sent a letter to NABS stating that it viewed the Lease as being terminated by operation of law as of July 1, 2016. R & F argued the trial court erred in finding the Lease was not a finance lease and, in the alternative, that the court erred in finding the doctrines of impossibility of performance and frustration of purpose to be inapplicable. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "R & F Financial Services v. North American Building Solutions, et al." on Justia Law

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After the University terminated her employment as the head coach of the women's basketball team, plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as state-law claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and invasion of privacy.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the breach of contract and Title IX claims. The court concluded that judgment in favor of plaintiff on the breach of contract claim was proper where a reasonable jury could have concluded that plaintiff's management of funds did not give the University cause to terminate her employment. Furthermore, the University was not entitled to a new trial on plaintiff's breach of contract claim. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to provide the requested jury instruction and any error on the district court's part was harmless. In regard to the Title IX claim, the court concluded that denial of plaintiff's jury instruction was not an abuse of discretion or grounds for a new trial. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment as to the privacy claim and concluded that it failed as a matter of law. The court explained that the facts disclosed by the University were of legitimate concern to the public and the district court clearly erred in concluding otherwise. View "Taylor-Travis v. Jackson State University" on Justia Law

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Sterling Bank purchased Damian Services. The stock purchase agreement set up a two-million-dollar escrow to resolve disputes arising after the purchase and established comprehensive rights, obligations, remedies, and procedures for resolving disputes. After the purchase, a former Damian employee called some of Damian’s clients to tell them of a billing practice that the sellers had instituted years earlier. When Sterling learned of the situation, it investigated with the help of a forensic accountant. Sterling concluded that under the sellers’ management, Damian had overcharged its clients by over one million dollars. Sterling refunded the overpayments to its current clients, then unsuccessfully demanded indemnification from the escrow, claiming that the sellers had misrepresented Damian’s liabilities and vulnerability to litigation.The district court granted the sellers summary judgment, reasoning that Sterling missed the deadline for claiming indemnification under the stock purchase agreement. The court denied the sellers’ request for statutory interest on the escrow money.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Whether Sterling’s demand for indemnification was late depends on disputed facts. Even if the demand was late, however, the agreement’s elaborate terms provide that any delay could be held against Sterling only “to the extent that [sellers] irrevocably forfeit[] rights or defenses by reason of such failure.” Undisputed facts show that the sellers have not irrevocably forfeited any claims or defenses. View "Sterling National Bank v. Block" on Justia Law

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In 2007, GM sold a power plant to DTEPN, which leased the land under the plant for 10 years. DTEPN agreed to sell utilities produced at the plant to GM, to maintain the plant according to specific criteria, and to address any environmental issues. DTEPN’s parent company, Energy, guaranteed DTEPN’s utility, environmental, and maintenance obligations. Two years later, GM filed for bankruptcy. GM and DTEPN agreed to GM’s rejection of the contracts. DTEPN exercised its right to continue occupying the property. An environmental trust (RACER) assumed ownership of some GM industrial property, including the DTEPN land. DTEPN remained in possession until the lease expired. RACER then discovered that DTEPN had allowed the power plant to fall into disrepair and contaminate the property.The district court dismissed the claims against Energy, reasoning that RACER’s allegations did not support piercing the corporate veil and Energy’s guaranty terminated after GM rejected the contracts in bankruptcy.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Michigan courts have held that a breach of contract can justify piercing a corporate veil if the corporate form has been abused. By allegedly directing its wholly-owned subsidiary to stop maintaining the property, Energy exercised control over DTEPN in a way that wronged RACER. DTEPN is now judgment-proof because it was not adequately capitalized by Energy. RACER would suffer an unjust loss if the corporate veil is not pierced. Rejection in bankruptcy does not terminate the contract; the contract is considered breached, 11 U.S.C. 365(g). The utility services agreement and the lease are not severable from each other. Energy guaranteed DTEPN’s obligations under the utility agreement concerning maintenance, environmental costs, and remediation, so Energy’s guaranty is joined to DTEPN’s section 365(h) election. View "EPLET, LLC v. DTE Pontiac North, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that this action against Uber Technologies, Inc. and Easier, LLC (collectively, Uber) was not arbitrable because there was no enforceable agreement between Uber and Plaintiffs.Plaintiffs brought this action under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, 98A claiming that three Uber drivers refused to provide one plaintiff with rides because he was blind and accompanied by a guide dog. Citing a provision in Uber's cellular telephone application, which Plaintiffs had used to register with Uber, Uber moved to compel arbitration. The judge granted the motion. The arbitrator ruled in favor of Uber on all claims. Thereafter, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held in Cullinane v. Uber Technologies, Inc., 893 F.3d 53 (1st Cir. 2018) that Uber's registration process did not create a contract. Thereafter, the judge reversed his decision granting the motion to compel arbitration, concluding that there was no enforceable contract requiring arbitration. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case, holding (1) Uber's terms and conditions did not constitute a contract with Plaintiffs; and (2) therefore, Uber could not enforce the terms and conditions against Plaintiffs, including the arbitration agreement. View "Kauders v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant was a successful franchise operator of several tax preparation businesses under the umbrella of JTH Tax, Inc. and SiempreTax+ LLC (together, "Liberty Tax"). In this case, Liberty Tax requested that defendant assign it the leases for the franchise properties, as provided for by the Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA). However, the parties could not agree to terms for the assignment. Liberty Tax subsequently filed suit and defendant countersued. Defendant largely prevailed and was awarded a significant sum of damages. The Fourth Circuit vacated a substantial portion of the damages award but upheld the judgment in defendant's favor. On remand, the district court recalculated damages based on the Fourth Circuit's instructions and then, on defendant's motion, subsequently amended the judgment, increasing the damages based on purportedly new evidence. Both parties appealed again.The Fourth Circuit found no error in the district court's denial of defendant's arguments for reinstatement of much of the original damages. The court explained that the district court did not err in concluding that the Rule 59(e) standard and the mandate rule precluded defendant's disgorgement theory. However, the court found error in the district court's conclusion that defendant met the standard for relief based on newly discovered evidence and in the award of nominal damages. The court concluded that, in the declaration and now on appeal, defendant does not show he exercised reasonable due diligence during the three years of litigation to discover and present evidence of unpaid rent on the Burnside property. Furthermore, nominal damages were unavailable because defendant was awarded compensatory damages to remedy Liberty Tax's breach of contract, regardless of the finding that Liberty Tax also breached the contract by breaching the implied covenant. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed and vacated in part, and remanded with instructions to recalculae damages. View "JTH Tax, Inc. v. Aime" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting a preliminary injunction based on a blue-penciled noncompetition agreement, holding that Golden Road Motor Inn, Inc. v. Islam, 376 P.3d 151, 159 (Nev. 2016), does not prohibit a district court from blue-penciling an unreasonable noncompetition agreement if the agreement allows for it.Defendants signed an employment contract containing a blue-penciling provision providing that, if any provision is found to be unreasonable by the court, the provision shall be enforceable to the extent the court deemed it unreasonable. When Defendants quit their employment and began work elsewhere, Plaintiff filed a complaint to enforce the agreement, alleging that Defendants violated the agreement's noncompetition clause. The district court found that the noncompetition agreement was overbroad and blue-penciled it. The court then granted Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction to enforce the revised agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the noncompetition agreement had a blue-penciling provision, the district court did not abuse its discretion by blue-penciling the noncompetition agreement and enforcing the revised agreement. View "Duong v. Fielden Hanson Isaacs Miyada Robison Yeh, Ltd." on Justia Law