Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Agriculture Law
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In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) entered into a “Cooperative Agreement” with St. Bernard Parish under the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act, 31 U.S.C. 6301–08. Under the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, NRCS was “authorized to assist [St. Bernard] in relieving hazards created by natural disasters that cause a sudden impairment of a watershed.” NRCS agreed to “provide 100 percent ($4,318,509.05) of the actual costs of the emergency watershed protection measures,” and to reimburse the Parish. St. Bernard contracted with Omni for removing sediment in Bayou Terre Aux Boeufs for $4,290,300.00, predicated on the removal of an estimated 119,580 cubic yards of sediment. Omni completed the project. Despite having removed only 49,888.69 cubic yards of sediment, Omni billed $4,642,580.58. NRCS determined that it would reimburse St. Bernard only $2,849,305.60. Omni and St. Bernard executed a change order that adjusted the contract price to $3,243,996.37. St. Bernard paid Omni then sought reimbursement from NRCS. NRCS reimbursed $355,866.21 less than St. Bernard claims it is due. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Parish’s lawsuit, filed under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In the Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994, 7 U.S.C. 6991–99, Congress created a detailed, comprehensive scheme providing private parties with the right of administrative review of adverse decisions by particular agencies within the Department of Agriculture, including NRCS. View "St. Bernard Parish Government v. United States" on Justia Law

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Until recently, Sexing Tech held a monopoly on the market for sexed cattle semen in the United States. Sperm‐sorting technology separates bull semen into X‐chromosome bearing and Y‐chromosome bearing sperm cells; the resulting “sexed semen” is used to inseminate cows artificially so that dairy farmers can breed only milk‐producing cows. ABS, a bull‐stud operation, sued, alleging that Sexing Tech had unlawfully monopolized the domestic sexed‐semen market in violation of section 2 of the Sherman Act by using its market power to impose coercive contract terms. ABS sought a declaratory judgment proclaiming those contracts invalid, to permit its own entry into that market. Sexing Tech counterclaimed that ABS infringed its patents and breached the contract by misappropriating trade secrets in developing ABS’s competing technology. Three claims went to trial: ABS’s antitrust claim and Sexing Tech’s patent infringement and breach of contract counterclaims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that ABS violated a confidentiality agreement it had with Sexing Tech and that Sexing Tech’s patent was not invalid on obviousness grounds. The jury’s assessments of two of the three patent claims still at issue cannot be reconciled under the rules governing dependent claims and enablement, and so a new trial is necessary on them. View "ABS Global, Inc. v. Inguran, LLC" on Justia Law

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Jacob Greer, doing business as Greer Farm, appealed from a judgment dismissing his claims against Global Industries, Inc. and Nebraska Engineering Co. ("NECO"), an unincorporated division of Global Industries (collectively "Global"). Greer argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment dismissal of his claims against Global because there were genuine issues of material fact about whether Advanced Ag Construction Incorporation, also a party to this action, was Global's agent when Advanced Ag sold a grain dryer to Greer. The North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, concluding certification under N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(b) was improvidently granted. View "Greer v. Global Industries" on Justia Law

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Autauga, a cooperative that pools and markets farmers’ cotton, claims that the Crosbys breached a marketing agreement when they failed to deliver their promised cotton for 2010 and sought liquidated damages ($1,305,397) under the agreement’s liquidated-damages provision, which provides: the Association shall be entitled to receive for every breach of this agreement for which such equitable relief is unavailable, liquidated damages in an amount equal to the difference between (a) the price of such cotton on the New York futures market during the period beginning with the date of breach or default by the Grower (taking into account the grade, staple, and micronaire of such cotton) and ending with the final delivery by the Association of cotton sold during that year, and (b) the highest price per pound received by the Association for the membership cotton (of the same or nearest grade, staple, and micronaire) sold by it from the same year’s crop. The Eleventh Circuit held that, under Alabama law, the provision that Autauga seeks to enforce is not a valid liquidated-damages clause but an impermissible penalty that is void and unenforceable. There is no evidence that the liquidated-damages formula here bears any relation to Autauga’s probable loss. View "Autauga Quality Cotton Association v. Crosby" on Justia Law

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XY’s patents relate to the sorting of X- and Y-chromosome-bearing sperm cells, for selective breeding purposes. Trans Ova provides services related to embryo transfer and in-vitro fertilization for cattle. XY and Trans Ova entered into a five-year licensing agreement in 2004 under which Trans Ova was authorized to use XY’s technology, subject to automatic renewal unless Trans Ova was in material breach. In 2007, Inguran acquired XY and sent a letter purporting to terminate the Agreement because of alleged breaches. For several years, the parties negotiated but failed to resolve their disputes. Trans Ova continued to make royalty payments to XY, which were declined. XY alleges that it became aware of further breaches, including underpayment of royalties and development of improvements to XY’s technology without disclosure of such improvements to XY. XY sued for patent infringement and breach of contract. Trans Ova counterclaimed, alleging patent invalidity, breach of contract, and antitrust violations. The district court granted XY summary judgment on the antitrust counterclaims. A jury found breaches of contract by both parties; that Trans Ova failed to prove that the asserted patent claims were invalid and willfully infringed the asserted claims; and XY was entitled to patent infringement damages. The court denied all of Trans Ova’s requested relief and granted XY an ongoing royalty. The Federal Circuit affirmed except the ongoing royalty rate, which it remanded for recalculation. View "XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, L.C." on Justia Law

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This appeal stems from a long-running dispute between the parties over a contract regarding Akaushi cattle. The court held that sufficient evidence existed for the jury to find that HeartBrand suffered a cognizable injury from Bear Ranch's misrepresentation; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it exercised its "wide latitude in determining the admissibility" of a valuation expert's testimony; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it chose not to modify the injunction in April 2016 as there was no showing of a significant change in circumstances; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding $3.2 million to HeartBrand in attorney's fees. However, the court reversed the district court's award of $1,825,000 in exemplary damages to HeartBrand. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it set the Constructive Trust Threshold at $3,796 per head. View "Bear Ranch, LLC v. Heartbrand Beef, Inc." on Justia Law

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From 2006-2012 Packerland deceived at least one of its customers about the protein content of its Whey Protein Concentrate. Land O’Lakes purchased Packerland’s protein concentrate for use in making foods for calves and other young animals. Buyers infer protein levels from measuring nitrogen: a seller can add another nitrogen-rich substance to produce higher scores. The Ratajczaks, who owned Packerland, started adding urea to its protein concentrate. in 2006. Land O’Lakes suspected that the concentrate was high in nonprotein nitrogen but could not learn why; the Ratajczaks made excuses that Land O’Lakes accepted. The Ratajczaks sold Packerland in 2012. The new owner kept them as employees; they kept adding urea until the buyer learned what the truth. The Ratajczaks lost their jobs and settled for about $10 million before the buyer filed a complaint. Land O’Lakes stopped buying Packerland’s product and asserted claims of breach of contract, fraud, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Packerland’s insurers refused to defend or indemnify it or the Ratajczaks; the Ratajczaks’ personal insurer refused to indemnify them for their settlement with Packerland’s buyer. The district court dismissed Land O’Lakes’s suit and ruled in favor of the insurers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Land O’Lakes’ claim to treble damages under RICO and state-law and the Ratajczaks’ claims that Packerland’s insurers and their own insurers had to defend and indemnify them. View "Land O'Lakes, Inc. v. Ratajczak" on Justia Law

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Bremer Bank, the Public Service Commission ("PSC"), Auto-Owners Insurance Company, and Curt Amundson appealed a judgment in a grain warehouse insolvency proceeding involving Grand Forks Bean Company after the district court appointed the PSC as trustee for the sale of dry edible beans from Grand Forks Bean's warehouse, denied Bremer's motion to intervene in the insolvency proceeding, and ordered distribution of the proceeds of the sale of the beans to growers determined to be noncredit-sale receiptholders. We conclude the district court did not err in construing applicable statutory provisions for insolvency proceedings and in applying those provisions. The PSC initially issued a trustee's report concluding all nine bean growers were noncredit-sale receiptholders entitled to participate in the trust fund proceeds and recommending payment of $652,747.92 to those receiptholders based on a December 2014 insolvency date and a market price of $23 per hundredweight on that date. The court ruled eight of the bean growers were noncredit-sale receiptholders entitled to participate in the insolvency trust fund proceeds. The court concluded one grower, Amundson, had a credit-sale contract with Grand Forks Bean under N.D.C.C. 60-04-01(2) and was not entitled to participate in the trust fund proceeds. The court also determined the date of Grand Forks Bean's insolvency under N.D.C.C. 60-04-02 was October 15, 2013, and the market price for beans on that date was $38 per hundredweight. The court determined three growers were entitled to a different price per hundredweight for their beans because they had cash claims with Grand Forks Bean for an agreed price. The court further concluded the PSC was entitled to its costs and expenses under N.D.C.C. sections 60-04-03.1, 60-04-09, and 60-04-10. The court ordered disbursement of the trust fund proceeds and thereafter issued an order denying Auto-Owner's motion for post-hearing relief. The district court denied without prejudice Bremer's motion to intervene to litigate the priority of its security interest, but allowed Bremer to participate in the proceeding "to the full extent provided to any other receiptholder/claimant." Amundson argued the district court erred in concluding he had a credit-sale contract with Grand Forks Bean because the definition of a credit-sale contract in N.D.C.C. 60-02-19.1 controls and required signatures by both the grower and the warehouseman to be a credit-sale contract. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Public Service Commission v. Grand Forks Bean Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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This consolidated action began as four separate lawsuits arising from transactions involving a dairy operation. This appeal focused on the claims asserted by Jack McCall against Max Silva personally. Max Silva appeals from the judgment of the district court in Twin Falls County finding him personally liable for the purchase of 116 dairy cows. After a bench trial, the district court found Silva personally liable for the purchase of the cows and dismissed the other claims against him. Silva contended that the district court erred when it found him personally liable for the purchase. Silva also argued that the district court abused its discretion when it failed to award him attorney fees proportionate to the claims on which he prevailed at trial. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "McCall v. Silva" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was a contract dispute between Silver Creek Seed, LLC and Sunrain Varieties, LLC, arising from the development of Bacterial Ring Rot (“BRR”) in two of the potato varieties grown by Silver Creek for Sunrain. After a four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict awarding damages to Silver Creek. Sunrain appealed: (1) the district court’s denial of a motion to reconsider an order granting partial summary judgment to Silver Creek; (2) the exclusion of the back side of the Idaho Crop Improvement Association (“ICIA”) blue tag from evidence; (3) the admission of testimony relating to the source of the BRR; (4) alleged errors in jury instructions; (5) the award of prejudgment interest to Silver Creek and (6) the award of attorney fees and costs to Silver Creek. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Silver Creek Seed v. Sunrain Varieties" on Justia Law