Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

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This appeal arose from a contractual dispute between the Christopher W. James Trust (“the Trust”) and Idaho Mineral Springs, LLC, a water bottling company owned by Helmut Tacke. In 2000, Tacke built Idaho Mineral Springs’ bottling facility on approximately 10 acres of a 374 acre parcel he owned in Lemhi County, Idaho. He installed a high-density polyester pipeline running about eight-tenths of a mile from a spring on the property to the water-bottling plant. From 2000 to 2013, Tacke sold little to no bottled water. By March 2013, Tacke owed on two promissory notes secured by mortgages on the property. That same year, Tacke’s machinery malfunctioned and he needed to obtain new equipment. Tacke negotiated an agreement with Christopher James (“James”), who, with his wife, Debra, were trustees of the Trust and the Firstfruits Foundation (“Firstfruits”), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation. The Agreement called for Firstfruits to pay off the outstanding loans on the property. In exchange, Tacke transferred title to 364 acres of the property, retaining the 10 acres of land where Idaho Mineral Springs’ operations were conducted. The Agreement further provided that the Trust would loan Idaho Mineral Springs $500,000 for two years with a 5% interest rate. Because James expected that the U.S. dollar would depreciate against the Australian dollar and precious metals, the Agreement called for the loan to be repaid in specified quantities of gold, silver and Australian dollars (“the commodity basket”). The Agreement also called for quarterly interest payments of 1.25% based upon the value of the commodity basket. Firstfruits entered into a joint venture with another nonprofit, Youth Employment Program, which sought to develop and manage the 364 acres. A conflict arose between the parties over Tacke’s waterline: Adams removed Tacke’s mainline and replaced it with a new PVC system. Adams reduced the flow to Idaho Mineral Springs from 91 gallons per minute (a discharge rate that Adams believed “could collapse the mainline”) to 30 gallons per minute. Tacke claimed that the new water system prohibited a direct flow of water from the spring to his plant and operated at a dramatically lower pressure than Tacke needed for Idaho Mineral Springs’ operations. Tacke appealed the district court’s ultimate judgment in favor of the Trust for $653,793.40. The Idaho Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the awards of contract damages and prejudgment interest had to be vacated because the Trust failed to prove the value of the commodity basket. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Christopher W. James Trust v. Tacke" on Justia Law

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In this action challenging an ordinance passed in 2011 requiring retirees from the City's police and fire departments to enroll in the federal Medicare program upon reaching the age of eligibility instead of continuing to have the City pay for their private health insurance for life the Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the final judgment of the superior court in favor of the City, holding that the trial judge misconceived the evidence with respect to the health care benefits that Plaintiffs were receiving from the City. Most police or firefighter retirees filed suit challenging the ordinance, and many settled. Some retirees opted out of the settlement and pursued their claims through a bench trial. The trial justice found in favor of the City. The Supreme Court held (1) with respect to Plaintiffs' claims for breach of contract, violation of the Takings Clause, and promissory estoppel, the superior court's judgment was proper; and (2) as to Plaintiffs' Contract Clause claims, the trial justice overlooked or misconceived evidence in several crucial respects. The Court remanded the case with instructions to enter judgment consistent with the provisions pertaining to the Medicare Ordinance as set forth in the final and consent judgment in the lawsuit from which Plaintiffs opted out. View "Andrews v. Lombardi" on Justia Law

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In this case challenging the City of Providence's ordinance suspending annual cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) for retired members of its police and fire departments until the pension fund achieved a seventy percent funding level the Supreme Court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and reversed in part the trial court judgment in favor of the City, holding that the pension ordinance was unenforceable as to certain plaintiffs. After the City enacted its ordinance in retiree groups and union groups initiated litigation to bar enforcement of the ordinance. Most retirees entered into a settlement that ripened into a consent judgment. Several individuals who opted out of the settlement agreement brought this suit. The trial justice entered judgment for the City. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the superior court correctly entered summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims under the Takings Clause and for promissory estoppel; (2) with respect to the plaintiffs who were also a party in prior litigation regarding their COLA benefits and who were included in an earlier consent judgment or individual settlement agreement, the pension ordinance was unenforceable; and (3) with respect to Plaintiffs' challenge to the pension ordinance based upon the Contract Clause, the judgment is vacated. View "Andrews v. Lombardi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's claims for violations of a municipal civil rights ordinance and the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) and breach of contract, holding that the ICRA does not contain authorization for a municipality to enact law that would be binding between two private parties in state court. Plaintiff claimed that he was discriminated against in his education on the basis of age and disability. The district court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims, concluding that it had no jurisdiction over the local ordinance claims, that the ICRA claims were barred because they were based on the same conduct, and that Plaintiff did not have a viable breach of contract claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the general assembly did not confer jurisdiction on Iowa state courts to hear claims by private parties arising under municipal civil rights ordinances; and (2) the district court did not err in its resolution of Plaintiff's ICRA and breach of contract claims. View "Petro v. Palmer College of Chiropractic" on Justia Law

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In this case brought by a tenant against her landlord and a neighboring tenant alleging breach of the lease's no-pets provision the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing the case, holding that the landlord's accommodation of an emotional support dog was not reasonable. Plaintiff moved into an apartment building because of its no-pets policy. Afterwards, another tenant requested a reasonable accommodation to have his emotion support animal (ESA), a dog, with him on the apartment premises. The landlord allowed the ESA and tried to accommodate the two tenants, but Plaintiff still suffered from allergic attacks. Plaintiff sued, alleging breach of the lease and interference with the quiet enjoyment of her apartment. The landlord asserted in its defense that its waiver of the no-pets policy was a reasonable accommodation that it was required to grant under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). The small claims court concluded that the landlord's accommodations were reasonable. The district court dismissed the case. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding (1) the landlord's accommodation of the ESA was not reasonable because Plaintiff had priority in time and the dog's presence posed a direct threat to her health; and (2) Plaintiff was entitled to recover on her claims. View "Cohen v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Mark Hiepler, as the trustee of the Orville G. Hiepler and Florence L. Hiepler Family Trust (“Trust”), appealed a judgment ordering him to transfer certain Trust property to Bill Seerup, and appealed an order denying his motion to dismiss. In April 2007, Orville and Florence Hiepler deeded 150 net mineral acres in Williams County to Seerup in exchange for $15,609. The mineral deed did not refer to the Trust or Orville and Florence Hiepler’s role as co-trustees. When the deed was executed, Orville individually owned only 7.3636 mineral acres. The remaining 142.6 mineral acres were owned by the Trust. Nine days after receiving the mineral deed from Orville and Florence Hiepler, Seerup conveyed 135 mineral acres to Hurley Oil Properties, Inc. In 2014, Dale Exploration, LLC, filed suit to quiet title to the 150 net mineral acres conveyed in the mineral deed from Orville and Florence Hiepler to Seerup. Seerup and Hurley Oil also brought a claim for breach of contract against Orville and Florence Hiepler, individually and as co-trustees, requesting specific performance or, alternatively, money damages if specific performance was not ordered. In 2017, the district court dismissed Dale Exploration’s claims on summary judgment, finding there was no evidence that Dale Exploration had an interest in the property. A bench trial was held on the remaining issues. The court found the Hieplers own the mineral interests in fee simple as trustees, not as individuals. The court also found the Hieplers breached the mineral deed to Seerup and the proper remedy was damages, not specific performance. The court awarded damages in the amount of $20,147.96. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded for further proceedings on whether money damages were adequate in light of specific performance. Orville died after the Supreme Court's judgment and mandate were issued. Orville and Mark responded to a proposed order drafted by Seerup and Hurley Oil, arguing the pleasings did not adequately assert specific performance. Specific performance of the mineral deed was ultimately granted. Mark Hiepler argues the district court erred in ordering him to convey the property to Seerup because the court did not have jurisdiction to enter a judgment against the Trust, the claims abated upon Orville Hiepler’s death, and he could not be substituted as a party for Orville Hiepler. Finding no error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dale Exploration, et al. v. Hiepler, et al." on Justia Law

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A "subtle" question concerning entitlement to attorney fees raised by this appeal was one of first impression for the Court of Appeal. In a separate lawsuit filed at Superior Court, plaintiffs obtained a judgment for breach of contract, including an award of attorney fees, against certain entities not parties to the present suit. Plaintiffs filed the present enforcement action against defendants, seeking to hold them liable on the judgment as alter egos of the judgment debtors. Plaintiffs lost against one of the defendants, Steve Saleen (Steve). Steve moved for attorney fees under the contract; the court granted the motion and plaintiffs appeals. Plaintiffs contended this was not an action on the contract and, therefore, fees were unavailable under Civil Code section 1717. Instead, it was an enforcement action. They cited caselaw for the proposition that a judgment on the contract subsumes and extinguishes contractual rights. On the other hand, had plaintiffs included Steve as a defendant in the Superior Court suit, making the exact same alter ego allegations they made to the Court of Appeal, undoubtedly Steve would have been entitled to contractual attorney fees under the doctrine of reciprocity established by Civil Code section 1717 and Reynolds Metals Co. v. Alperson, 25 Cal.3d 124 (1979), even though he was not a signatory on the contract. The Court of Appeal concluded the timing of an alter ego claim (either pre- or postjudgment) was too arbitrary a consideration on which to base the right to attorney fees. "When a judgment creditor attempts to add a party to a breach of contract judgment that includes a contractual fee award, the suit is essentially 'on the contract' for purposes of Civil Code section 1717." The Court therefore agreed with Steve and affirmed judgment. View "MSY Trading Inc. v. Saleen Automotive, Inc." on Justia Law

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Kevin Crook appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Allstate Indemnity Company ("Allstate Indemnity"), Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate Insurance"), and The Barker Agency (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the defendants"). Crook owns lake-front property in Tuscaloosa County. The property consists of a house, a bathhouse, a garage, a deck, and a boat dock. In 2006, Crook, through The Barker Agency, obtained property insurance on the house and other structures from Allstate Indemnity. Allstate Indemnity issued a policy to Crook ("the policy") and provided uninterrupted insurance coverage of Crook's house from 2006 through 2015. On February 12, 2015, Allstate Indemnity conducted an inspection of the property for underwriting purposes. After the inspection, on February 23, 2015, The Barker Agency sent Crook a letter with the results, finding no "issues that impact [Crook's] current coverage, and you do not need to do anything further. ...our inspection... focused only on identifying certain types of hazards or conditions that might impact your future insurance coverage. It may not have identified some other hazards of conditions on your property." In April 2015, a storm damaged the deck and the boat dock. Ultimately, Crook sued defendants for breach of contract, bad-faith failure to pay a claim, negligent/wanton procurement of insurance, and estoppel, all relating to the policy's coverage of the storm damage. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants and affirmed. View "Crook v. Allstate Indemnity Company, et al." on Justia Law

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In appeal no. 1180355, Donald Porter, Marc Porter, Porter Capital Corporation, Porter Bridge Loan Company, Inc., Lowerline Corporation, CapitalPartners Leasing, Inc., and CapitalPartners Leasing, LLC (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Porter defendants"), appealed a judgment entered in favor of Byron Porter Williamson in his action seeking specific performance of a shareholders agreement that Williamson had entered into with Donald and Marc ("the agreement"). In appeal no. 1180634, Williamson cross-appealed the same judgment seeking prejudgment interest on the full amount of the judgment. The question presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review was whether the trial court exceeded the scope of Williamson's request for specific performance of the agreement by awarding Williamson a monetary sum representing the value of his interest in the Porter companies based on a valuation process that differed from the valuation process set forth in the agreement. The Porter defendants did not challenge the trial court's determination that Williamson's retirement was a "triggering event" under the agreement that required the Porter defendants to "acquire" Williamson's shares under paragraph 9 of the agreement. They argued only that the trial court awarded relief beyond the scope of a request for specific performance of the agreement. The Supreme Court concurred the trial court's determination of share value used an evaluation process inconsistent with the agreement. The cross-appeal was dismissed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Porter, et al. v. Williamson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the order of the trial court that Petitioners pay $7,000 from a supersedeas bond over losing the underlying appeal and ordering Petitioners to pay $114,280 from the bond, holding that the court of appeals erred in calculating the amount. When Petitioners were ousted from land upon which their cattle grazed, they brought this action challenging the ouster. The trial court granted summary judgment in part for Respondents then, after a trial, rendered judgment that Petitioners take nothing. The trial court allowed Petitioners to suspend the judgment by posting a supersedeas bond, which meant Petitioners could keep their cattle on the leased land during the appeal. The trial court ruled that Respondent was entitled to $7,000 from the bond. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Respondent should recover $114,280 from the bond, basing its calculation on the expense Petitioners would have incurred if the judgment had not been superseded. At issue was how "loss or damage" is calculated on release of a supersedeas bond under Tex. R. App. 24.2(a)(3). The Supreme Court reinstated the trial court's order, holding that the proper measure is the actual loss Respondent suffered because the judgment was superseded. View "Haedge v. Central Texas Cattlemen's Ass'n" on Justia Law