Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Patricia Walker-Swinton v. Philander Smith College
Philander Smith College fired Plaintiff after she referred to a student as “retarded” for using a cell phone during class. She sued for sex discrimination, retaliation, and breach of contract. After granting summary judgment to the college on the first two claims, the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the third. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that Plaintiff has not put forward sufficient evidence of pretext. So summary judgment marks the end of the road for her sex-discrimination claim. Further, the court reasoned that even if the conditions were intolerable, in other words, Plainitff’s own role in provoking these incidents undermines the claim that the college created a workplace full of discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult. Moreover, the court explained once Plaintiff’s federal claims were gone, the district court had no obligation to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s Arkansas breach-of-contract claim. View "Patricia Walker-Swinton v. Philander Smith College" on Justia Law
Julie Beberman v. Antony Blinken
Plaintiff asked the Foreign Service Grievance Board to review the Foreign Service’s decision to deny her tenure. While the Board was considering her grievances, Plaintiff asked the Board to grant “interim relief.” That relief would have let Plaintiff keep working for the Foreign Service until her case was decided. But the Board refused to grant it. So Plaintiff filed suit, claiming that the Board should have given her relief. After Plainitff in lost in the district court and appealed to this court, the Board reached final decisions on her grievances. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss Plaintiff’s backpay claim, and the court dismissed Plaintiff’s appeal of her interim-relief claims as moot. The court explained backpay is not an available remedy on judicial review of the Board’s orders. Nothing in the Foreign Service Act authorizes a court to issue backpay. Plus, under the Act, judicial review is adjudicated “in accordance with the standards set forth in [the Administrative Procedure Act].” Here, the Board found no merit to four of Plaintiff’s grievances. As for the fifth grievance, the Board held that Plaintiff’s claim had merit, but it still denied her backpay. And because Plaintiff has not petitioned for judicial review of the Board’s decision to deny backpay in that grievance, the court wrote it cannot direct the Board to reconsider it. View "Julie Beberman v. Antony Blinken" on Justia Law
State v. Brandon
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to suppress statements he had made during two separately recorded interrogations of him by police officers, holding that the trial court properly denied Defendant's motion to suppress.The two interrogations at issue occurred on the same day. As to the first interrogation, Defendant claimed that the police failed to advise him of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Defendant further claimed that the second interrogation was tainted by the alleged illegality of the first interrogation. The trial court denied the motion to suppress and, following a jury trial, convicted Defendant of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Miranda warnings were not required for the first interrogation because it was not custodial; and (2) the failure to provide the warnings did not taint the second interrogation. View "State v. Brandon" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Connecticut Supreme Court, Contracts, Criminal Law
Hudson v. Lincare, Inc.
Plaintiff is a black woman who worked for Lincare, Incorporated. She sued her former employer under Title VII, claiming that she suffered from a racially hostile work environment and that Lincare both failed to address the situation and retaliated against her when she complained. She also sued for breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Lincare. On appeal, Plaintiff contended that summary judgment was improper on her Title VII claims for a hostile work environment and unlawful retaliation. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that even assuming that Plaintiff suffered from severe or pervasive harassment, Lincare cannot be liable under Title VII because it took prompt remedial action. Aside from one remark, Plaintiff could not remember any use of the N-word in the office after she made her reports to HR. Nor does she identify a single racially insensitive comment that occurred after the offending parties received final warnings. In short, Lincare “acted swiftly in taking remedial measures, and the harassment ceased.” Because of its prompt and effective response, Lincare cannot be liable under Title VII for creating a hostile work environment. Further, the court explained, there is no evidence that Plaintiff’s working conditions were impacted, only that the plan opened up the possibility of further action (which never occurred). An employment decision is not an adverse action if it does not objectively worsen the employee’s working conditions. View "Hudson v. Lincare, Inc." on Justia Law
Wheelbarger v. Detroit Diesel ECM, LLC
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court dismissing certain defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction, holding that the defendants' contacts were too attenuated for them to have purposefully established minimum contacts within Nebraska.The out-of-state defendants at issue on appeal facilitated the sale of allegedly defective software installed by a local mechanic in four of Plaintiff's trucks. Plaintiff asserted against them claims for strict liability, negligence, and breach of implied warranties. The district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, concluding that Plaintiff failed to make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the quality and nature of the defendants' activities related to this action did not support personal jurisdiction. View "Wheelbarger v. Detroit Diesel ECM, LLC" on Justia Law
Ramos v. Piech
In 2017, Ramos settled his lawsuits against Cook County Jail correctional officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 that alleged a failure to protect Ramos from another inmate and the use of excessive force. The settlement agreements contained an identical 262-word sentence—labeled a general release—that released Cook County and its employees from all claims. Months later, Ramos filed another section 1983 lawsuit against two Cook County police officers based on a 2016 arrest that occurred after the events that lead to the first two lawsuits but prior to the execution of the settlement agreements.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants. “While the rambling, 262- word sentence is no model of clarity,” it unambiguously released Ramos’s claims arising out of the 2016 arrest. Three phrases signal that Ramos released all foreseeable claims against Cook County “and its agents, employees and former employees,” including those stemming from his 2016 arrest when he signed the settlement agreements in 2017. View "Ramos v. Piech" on Justia Law
132 Ventures, LLC v. Active Spine Physical Therapy, LLC
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part and remanded this matter for a new trial, holding that the district court erred in proceeding to a trial without a jury on Plaintiff's causes of action for breach of contract, breach of guaranty, and unjust enrichment.Plaintiff's brought this complaint against Defendants for, among other causes of action, forcible entry and detainer. The district court granted relief on the forcible entry and detainer claim, ordering restitution. After a bench trial, the district court heard the remaining causes of action and awarded damages to Plaintiff. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiff's remaining causes of action were legal in nature, and the issues of fact that arose thereunder entitled Defendants to a jury trial unless waived; and (2) there was no waiver of Defendants' right to a jury trial. View "132 Ventures, LLC v. Active Spine Physical Therapy, LLC" on Justia Law
Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court dismissing this action under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) but modified the judgment to reflect that the dismissal was without prejudice, holding that the church-autonomy doctrine applied in this case and required its dismissal under Rule 12(B)(6).Plaintiff sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc., asserting intentional interference with his contract and employment with Cathedral High School. The Archdiocese moved to the dismiss the complaint and invoked three defenses under the First Amendment, including the church-autonomy defense. The trial court dismissed the case with prejudice for failure to state a claim and for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that dismissal under Rule 12(B)(1) was improper but that the church-autonomy doctrine barred Plaintiff's claims. View "Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Supreme Court of Indiana
Public Risk Management of Florida v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc.
Public Risk Management of Florida (“PRM”) Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. (“Munich”) for breach of contract and sought declaratory relief that Munich is obligated by the parties’ reinsurance agreement (“the Reinsurance Agreement”) to reimburse PRM for the defense and coverage it provided to an insured in an underlying lawsuit. Munich counter-claimed for a declaratory judgment stating that it has no duty to reimburse PRM, and the district court granted that relief. On appeal, PRM argues, inter alia, that the Reinsurance Agreement contained a “follow the fortunes” clause, which forbids a reinsurer “from second guessing” an insurer’s “good faith decision” to pay a claim to the insured. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment holding that the district court correctly decided that Munich had no duty to reimburse PRM for its defense and indemnification of the City in the underlying Section 1983 suit. The court explained that The Reinsurance Agreement contains language that is plainly inconsistent with the follow the-fortunes doctrine. Accordingly, the district court properly rejected the doctrine’s application in this case. Further, the court held that it will not infer the application of the follow-the-fortunes doctrine in a reinsurance agreement where the agreement’s plain and unambiguous language is inconsistent with the doctrine. Applying this rule the court concluded that it would be inconsistent with the plain, unambiguous terms of the Reinsurance Agreement to infer that Munich should be bound by PRM’s coverage decision. View "Public Risk Management of Florida v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc." on Justia Law
Nunez v. Cycad Management LLC
The defendant hired the plaintiff as a gardener and required him to sign an employment agreement (“Agreement”), which mandates arbitration of “all disputes between Employee and Company relating, in any manner whatsoever, to the employment or termination” of the employee. Plaintiff sued his employer, and the employer demanded arbitration. Plaintiff argued that the defendant waived the right to arbitrate, that he did not sign the Agreement or signed without informed consent, and the Agreement is unconscionable.On appeal, the court reasoned that arbitration agreements are “valid, enforceable and irrevocable, save upon such grounds as exist for the revocation of any contract.” Code Civ. Proc., Sec. 1281. To declare an agreement unenforceable, a court must find procedural and substantive unconscionability. Here, the court found that defendant had superior bargaining power over the plaintiff. Further, the employer drafted the Agreement and presented it to the plaintiff as a condition of employment on a take-it-or-leave basis. The plaintiff claimed he had no opportunity to review the Agreement and was told the English-language Agreement involved a company change, not that it waived his right to a jury trial. The plaintiff was instructed to sign the Agreement or be fired.The court found that the employer presented the plaintiff with an agreement in a language he cannot read, misrepresented the nature of the document, denied him an opportunity to review it, included unfair and onerous provisions, and chilled his ability to claim civil rights violations. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. View "Nunez v. Cycad Management LLC" on Justia Law