Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The case revolves around a dispute between Sharon Ann Koch, a member of the Buffalo Trail Ranch subdivision, and Melissa R. Gray, who was purchasing a tract in the subdivision. Koch, along with other members and the developer of the subdivision, Rocky Mountain Timberlands, Inc. (RMT), sued Gray for allegedly violating the subdivision's restrictive covenants by placing garbage, junk, and other prohibited items on her property. The covenants, filed by RMT in 2008, also required the formation of a road maintenance association, which was never established.The District Court of Albany County dismissed all claims against Gray, applying the contractual "first to breach" doctrine. The court reasoned that RMT, by failing to form the road maintenance association, was the first to breach the covenants. Therefore, it was impossible to hold Gray to the covenants. Koch appealed this decision, arguing that she had no contractual relationship with Gray, and thus the "first to breach" doctrine should not apply to her claim.The Supreme Court of Wyoming agreed with Koch. It found that the "first to breach" doctrine, which is based on a contractual relationship, could not be applied as there was no contract between Koch and Gray. The court also rejected the lower court's conclusion that RMT's breach of the covenants rendered them inapplicable to Gray. The court found no legal basis for applying the "first to breach" doctrine to a third party's enforcement of covenants. Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Koch v. Gray" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Firexo Group Limited (FGL), a British company that manufactures fire extinguishers, and Firexo, Inc., a Florida-based company that was created to sell FGL's products in the United States. Scot Smith, a resident of Ohio, purchased 70% of Firexo, Inc. from FGL under a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA). The JVA included a forum-selection clause designating England or Wales as the exclusive jurisdiction for any disputes arising from the agreement. Firexo, Inc., which was not a signatory to the JVA, later sued FGL in an Ohio court over issues with the fire extinguishers. FGL sought to dismiss the case based on the forum-selection clause in the JVA.The district court granted FGL's motion to dismiss, applying the "closely related" doctrine. This doctrine allows a non-signatory to a contract to be bound by a forum-selection clause if the non-signatory is sufficiently closely related to the contract. The district court found that Firexo, Inc. was closely related to the JVA and therefore subject to the forum-selection clause. Firexo, Inc. appealed this decision, arguing that the district court applied the wrong law and analytical approach in determining the applicability of the contract.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed with Firexo, Inc. that the district court had applied the wrong law. The court held that the "closely related" doctrine, a federal common law rule, should not have been used to interpret the JVA's forum-selection clause. Instead, the court should have applied the law specified in the JVA, which was English law. Under English law, contracts do not apply to non-signatories unless certain exceptions apply, none of which were present in this case. Therefore, the forum-selection clause in the JVA did not apply to Firexo, Inc., and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Firexo, Inc. v. Firexo Group Limited" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dennis Neate, a former employee of the James B. Oswald Company (Oswald), an insurance firm. Neate left Oswald to work for Hylant Group, Inc., another insurance firm, and some of his clients followed him. Oswald accused Neate of violating his non-solicitation agreement and sued in federal district court. The court issued a preliminary injunction ordering Neate and others to comply with Oswald’s non-solicitation agreement. Neate appealed.Previously, the district court granted a preliminary injunction after an evidentiary hearing. The injunction prohibited Neate and others from violating their agreements with Oswald, retaining or using Oswald's confidential information, and soliciting or accepting business from Oswald's clients. The injunction also required all defendants to return all of Oswald's property.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded the case. The court found that the district court failed to properly apply Ohio law in determining the reasonableness of the non-solicitation agreement. The court also found that the injunction did not meet the specificity requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(d)(1), as it incorporated the non-solicitation agreement by reference. However, the court agreed with the district court that Oswald had shown a likelihood of success on its trade-secrets claims. View "James B. Oswald Co. v. Neate" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a contract dispute over roofing work done in conjunction with the purchase of a house. The appellant, Carl Fleig, had purchased a house from homeowners who had contracted with the appellee, Landmark Construction Group, to replace a hail-damaged roof. After the purchase, the new roof leaked, causing damage to the house. Landmark refused to address the leaks, arguing that any warranty given to the prior homeowners did not transfer to Fleig. Fleig sued Landmark, asserting theories of implied warranty, contractual warranty, and fraud.The case was initially heard by two trial judges and was appealed twice. The trial court granted Landmark's motion for a directed verdict and awarded Landmark $5,000 in attorney fees. Fleig appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma vacated the Court of Civil Appeals opinion and remanded the matter to the trial court. After a second bench trial, the trial court entered an award against Landmark for $2,725. Fleig appealed again, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court in part, reversed it in part, and remanded the cause.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma granted certiorari to address whether the trial court's order awarding attorney fees evidenced that the trial court complied with the directives of State ex rel. Burk v. City of Oklahoma City. The court held that it did not. The court found that the trial court order awarding attorney fees did not set forth with specificity the facts and computation to support the award. The court held that the trial court must make findings of fact incorporated into the record regarding the hours spent, reasonable hourly rates, and the value placed on additional factors. The court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals opinion in part, reversed the trial court in part, and remanded the cause for proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Fleig v. Landmark Construction Group" on Justia Law

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Frederic P. Zotos, an attorney residing in Cohasset, Massachusetts, filed a qui tam complaint against the Town of Hingham and several of its officials. Zotos alleged that the town and its officials posted speed limit signs and advisory speed plaques that did not comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations. He further claimed that the town applied for and received reimbursements for these signs and plaques from both the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Zotos asserted that the town fraudulently induced the federal government to pay it roughly $3,300,000 and the Commonwealth to pay it approximately $7,300,000.The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed Zotos's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court concluded that the qui tam action was not barred by either claim or issue preclusion. However, it found that Zotos's claims fell short of the False Claims Act (FCA) and Massachusetts False Claims Act's (MFCA) requirements. Specifically, it ruled that Zotos failed to sufficiently plead that the alleged misrepresentations were material to the federal government's and the Commonwealth's respective decisions.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that Zotos's complaint did not adequately allege that the defendants' purported misrepresentations were material. It noted that the essence of the bargain under the Federal-Aid Highway Program (FAHP) and the Chapter 90 program was that the defendants incurred permissible costs on projects that were duly reimbursed. The court concluded that Zotos's allegations amounted to ancillary violations that, without more, were insufficient to establish materiality. View "United States ex rel. Zotos v. Town of Hingham" on Justia Law

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The case involves Alabama Relocation Services, Inc. ("ARS") and Patricia Buchannan, who filed a complaint against COWS USA, LLC ("COWS"), Trailpods Acceptance Corporation ("Trailpods"), Michael Frank, Ana Frank, and Leonard Rosenberg ("the COWS defendants"). ARS is a moving and storage company based in Mobile, Alabama, and Buchannan is its vice president. COWS is a Florida-based company that sells portable storage containers. ARS and Buchannan allege that they entered into a dealership agreement with COWS, which required them to lease equipment from Trailpods and finance the purchase of COWS equipment through Ascentium Capital, LLC ("Ascentium"). However, they claim that despite making payments, the promised equipment was never delivered.The COWS defendants filed a motion to dismiss the claims, arguing that the dealership agreement contained a forum-selection clause requiring disputes to be brought in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The Mobile Circuit Court denied their motion to dismiss. The COWS defendants then petitioned the Supreme Court of Alabama for a writ of mandamus, seeking an order directing the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss and to enter an order dismissing the claims.The Supreme Court of Alabama granted the petition. The court found that the dealership agreement's forum-selection clause clearly required actions between the parties to be brought in Miami, Florida. The court concluded that ARS and Buchannan failed to clearly establish that enforcement of the forum-selection clause would be unreasonable. The court directed the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate its order denying the COWS defendants' motions to dismiss and to enter a new order dismissing the claims against the COWS defendants, without prejudice. View "Ex parte Cows USA, LLC" on Justia Law

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Scott Dahms hired Legacy Plumbing, LLC to perform plumbing work in a house built in the 1920s. Due to the age and condition of the piping, Legacy recommended replacing as much of the piping as possible. Dahms, however, wanted to keep costs low and did not want additional piping replaced. After Legacy completed the work, Dahms discovered a leak in the bathroom, which caused damage to the home. Dahms filed a lawsuit in small claims court for the cost to repair the damage from the leak. Legacy removed the case to district court, filed an answer, and moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Legacy and dismissed Dahms’s claim.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Legacy, concluding that there was no genuine issue of fact as to the source and cause of the leak. The court relied on affidavits and photographs provided by Legacy, which asserted that the source of the leak was the original lead and Oakum joint seal inside the main cast iron stack, not the PVC piping or hub part installed by Legacy. The court also concluded that the damage due to the leak was an incidental under the warranty clause of the contract between Dahms and Legacy.The Supreme Court of North Dakota reversed the district court's decision, concluding that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to the source and cause of the leak. The court found that the district court had improperly weighed the evidence and determined witness credibility by considering the experience of the affiants. The Supreme Court also found that a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding whether the damage was incidental to Legacy’s work under the agreement. The court denied Legacy's request for attorney’s fees and remanded the case back to the district court. View "Dahms v. Legacy Plumbing" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between Sheet Pile, LLC and Plymouth Tube Company. The conflict arose from an exclusivity agreement, in which Plymouth agreed to manufacture certain products only for PilePro, Sheet Pile's predecessor. Approximately a decade later, Sheet Pile accused Plymouth of breaching this agreement by selling those products to other companies, and they sued for fraud and breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Plymouth.Sheet Pile then appealed. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed the summary judgment de novo and affirmed the lower court's decision. For the breach-of-contract claim, the court concluded that the claim was time-barred under Texas law, which has a four-year statute of limitations for such claims. The court also held that the discovery rule, which could have deferred the accrual of the cause of action, did not apply.Regarding the fraud claim, the court concluded that Sheet Pile failed to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact that Plymouth's representations were false when made. The court noted that there was no evidence that Plymouth sold the exclusive products to third parties in 2014 or 2015, and that Plymouth had expressly warned PilePro that it might begin selling to third parties if PilePro didn't hold up its end of the agreement. Therefore, the court affirmed summary judgment for Plymouth. View "Sheet Pile v. Plymouth Tube" on Justia Law

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A Delaware corporation, Northern Natural Gas Company, sued another Delaware entity, Centennial Resource Production, LLC, in Nebraska for breach of contract. The dispute arose after Centennial, due to a cold weather event in Texas, was unable to use its reserved pipeline capacity and refused to pay the corresponding invoice. The district court concluded it had personal jurisdiction over Centennial based on Centennial's contractual consent and sufficient minimum contacts with Nebraska during the formation and implementation of their business relationship.Centennial appealed, arguing that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that Centennial consented to personal jurisdiction in Nebraska by joining Northern's Master Escrow Agreement that contained an express consent to jurisdiction in Nebraska and waived the personal jurisdiction defense. The court found that the Service Agreement, Joinder Agreement, and Master Escrow Agreement became one unitary unseverable agreement through the plain language of the Tariff. The court concluded that the forum selection clause found in the Master Escrow Agreement applied equally to the Service Agreement as one unitary agreement. Thus, due process was satisfied when Centennial consented to personal jurisdiction by entering into a contract that contains a valid forum selection clause, and Nebraska was not a forum non conveniens. View "Northern Nat. Gas Co. v. Centennial Resource Prod." on Justia Law

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This case involves Stewart Johnston who was the defendant, cross-complainant, and appellant, against BTHHM Berkeley, LLC, PNG Berkeley, LLC, Michail Family 2004 Living Trust, Bianca Blesching, Scot Hawkins (collectively, BTHHM), and Holda Novelo and Landmark Real Estate Management, Inc. (collectively, Landmark). Johnston owned a property which he was to lease to BTHHM for a cannabis dispensary once permits were granted by the City of Berkeley. However, after the city approved the permit, Johnston refused to deliver possession of the property to BTHHM, leading to a lawsuit by BTHHM against Johnston.Following mediation, a two-page term sheet titled “Settlement Term Sheet Agreement” was signed by all parties. Johnston later wished to withdraw from the agreement. BTHHM and Landmark moved to enforce the term sheet pursuant to section 664.6 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which the court granted. Johnston failed to make the payments required by the enforcement orders. The court granted BTHHM's motion for entry of judgment, awarded prejudgment interest to BTHHM, entered judgment against Johnston, and dismissed his cross-complaint with prejudice.The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Four reversed the trial court’s award of prejudgment interest but otherwise affirmed the decision. The court held that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that the term sheet’s language evinces the parties’ mutual agreement to settle the case according to its terms. However, the court concluded that the award of prejudgment interest was unauthorized as it differed materially from the terms of the parties’ agreement. View "BTHHM Berkeley, LLC v. Johnston" on Justia Law