Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The case involves Mid Valley Pipeline Company, an interstate pipeline company, and the Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners. In 1949, the Levee Board granted Mid Valley a permit to construct and maintain two pipelines across a levee in Mississippi. The permit was not limited to a term of years and could be revoked by the Levee Board if Mid Valley failed to comply with any of the permit's conditions. In 2005, Mid Valley was instructed to relocate its pipelines, which it did at a cost of over $700,000. In 2020, the Levee Board informed Mid Valley that it would be charging an annual pipeline crossing fee and would revoke all existing permits for pipelines not currently paying the fee. Mid Valley did not respond to these notices.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi granted summary judgment in favor of the Levee Board, dismissing Mid Valley's claim that the imposition of the annual fee and the revocation of the permit violated the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution. The court reasoned that the 1949 permit was not a contract.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed with the district court that the 1949 permit was not a contract. The court noted that under Mississippi law, a contract requires mutual assent, among other elements. The court found that the permit was a unilateral grant of permission by the Levee Board, and there was no evidence of mutual assent to form a contract. Therefore, the Levee Board's actions did not violate the Contract Clause. View "Mid Valley Pipeline v. Rodgers" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Intellectual Tech LLC (IT), a wholly owned subsidiary of OnAsset Intelligence, Inc. (OnAsset), and its patent dispute with Zebra Technologies Corporation (Zebra). In 2019, IT asserted U.S. Patent No. 7,233,247 against Zebra, claiming that it was the owner and assignee of the patent. However, Zebra moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that IT lacked standing. The district court initially denied the motion, but later granted it based on its determination that IT lacked constitutional standing, leading to the dismissal of all claims without prejudice.Previously, OnAsset had granted Main Street Capital Corporation (Main Street), a lender, a security interest in its patents, including the one in question, as part of a loan agreement. When OnAsset defaulted on the loan, Main Street gained certain rights. Subsequently, OnAsset assigned the patent to IT, which also defaulted on its obligations. The district court found that Main Street's ability to license the patent upon default deprived IT of all its exclusionary rights, leading to a lack of constitutional standing.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit disagreed with the district court's interpretation. The appellate court found that IT retained at least one exclusionary right, even considering the rights Main Street gained upon default. The court clarified that a patent owner has exclusionary rights as a baseline matter unless it has transferred all exclusionary rights away. The court concluded that IT still suffered an injury in fact from infringement even if IT and Main Street could both license the patent. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Intellectual Tech LLC v. Zebra Technologies Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2020, Luke Hogan, a graduate student at Southern Methodist University (SMU), found his final semester disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many institutions, SMU shifted to online classes in response to government lockdown orders. Hogan, feeling cheated out of the in-person educational experience he had paid for, sued SMU for breach of contract. He sought a refund of his tuition and fees, arguing that the shift to online learning constituted a breach of SMU's promise of in-person education.The federal district court sided with SMU, and Hogan appealed. The Fifth Circuit then certified a question to the Supreme Court of Texas: Does the application of the Pandemic Liability Protection Act (PLPA) to Hogan’s breach-of-contract claim violate the retroactivity clause in article I, section 16 of the Texas Constitution? The PLPA, enacted in 2021, protects schools from monetary liability for altering their activities in response to the pandemic.The Supreme Court of Texas held that the application of the PLPA to Hogan's claim does not violate the Texas Constitution's prohibition on retroactive laws. The court reasoned that Hogan did not have a settled expectation of recovering damages from SMU under these circumstances. The court noted that the common law has traditionally excused a party from performing a contract when performance is rendered impossible by an act of God or government. The court also pointed out that Hogan voluntarily accepted SMU's offer to complete his degree online without a corresponding offer of tuition refunds or reduced fees. Therefore, any right of recovery that might have existed for Hogan was speculative and untested prior to the PLPA's enactment. The court concluded that the PLPA, enacted to resolve legal uncertainty created by the pandemic, did not upset Hogan's settled expectations and thus did not violate the constitutional prohibition on retroactive laws. View "HOGAN v. SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY" on Justia Law

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The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation brought a suit against the United States, alleging various claims concerning water rights and water-related infrastructure. The Tribe claimed that the United States breached duties of trust by mismanaging water rights and infrastructure held by the United States and operated for the Tribe, breached contracts with the Tribe, and effected unconstitutional takings of the Tribe’s property. The Claims Court dismissed all the breach of trust claims, held that one breach of contract claim was barred by a 2012 settlement agreement, and found the remaining breach of contract and takings claims time barred.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part the Claims Court's decision. The Court of Appeals held that the Winters doctrine and the 1899 Act did not sufficiently establish trust duties to support Indian Tucker Act jurisdiction with respect to the Tribe’s claims that the United States has a duty to construct new infrastructure and secure new water for the Tribe. However, the Court found that the 1906 Act imposes trust duties on the United States sufficient to support a claim at least with respect to management of existing water infrastructure. The Court also affirmed the dismissal of one breach of contract claim, vacated and remanded another, and affirmed the dismissal of the takings claims. View "UTE INDIAN TRIBE OF THE UINTAH & OURAY INDIAN RESERVATION v. US" on Justia Law

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Whitetail Wave LLC, a Montana Limited Liability Company, sued XTO Energy, Inc., a Delaware corporation, the Board of University and School Lands of the State of North Dakota, the State of North Dakota, and the Department of Water Resources and its Director. Whitetail Wave claimed ownership of certain property in McKenzie County, North Dakota, and alleged that XTO Energy had breached their lease agreement by failing to make required royalty payments. Whitetail Wave also claimed that the State's assertion of an interest in the mineral interests associated with the property constituted an unconstitutional taking without just compensation.The District Court of McKenzie County granted summary judgment in favor of the State and XTO Energy. The court concluded that the State owned certain mineral interests within the ordinary high watermark as defined by North Dakota law. The court also found that XTO Energy was within the safe harbor provision provided by North Dakota law and did not breach the parties’ lease agreement when it withheld the royalty payments. The court awarded XTO Energy recovery of its attorney’s fees.On appeal, the Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the judgment of the district court. The Supreme Court found that the district court did not err in dismissing Whitetail Wave's claim of an unconstitutional taking against the State, as the State's actions were limited to a title dispute. The Supreme Court also found that the district court did not err in dismissing Whitetail Wave's claim against XTO Energy for the non-payment of royalties, as XTO Energy fell within the safe harbor provision of North Dakota law. Finally, the Supreme Court found that the district court did not err in awarding XTO Energy a recovery of its attorney’s fees as the prevailing party. View "Whitetail Wave v. XTO Energy" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between American Precision Ammunition, L.L.C. (APA) and the City of Mineral Wells in Texas. APA and the City entered into a Tax Abatement Agreement ("Agreement") where the City promised to gift APA $150,000 and provide APA ten years of tax abatements. However, the City terminated the Agreement, claiming that the $150,000 gift was illegal under the Texas Constitution. APA sued the City for breach of contract, violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), and denial of federal due process and due course of law under the Texas Constitution. The district court dismissed all claims, and APA appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. It held that the Agreement was illegal and unenforceable under Texas law because the City's contractual obligation to "gift" APA $150,000 constitutes a gratuitous payment of public money. The court also dismissed APA's TOMA claim as moot because there was no "agreement" to reinstate given that the Agreement was unenforceable. Furthermore, the court found that APA's due process claims failed because the promise for the $150,000 gift was void and did not constitute a contract, and therefore, APA had no protected property interest in the gift. Even assuming that APA had a property interest in the tax abatements, the court held that APA's due process and due course of law claims still fail because Texas law affords APA sufficient opportunity to pursue that claim in state court. View "American Precision v. Mineral Wells" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from a partial final judgment of the district court dismissing his Connecticut state law claims for defamation and tortious interference with contract against Defendant, who accused Plaintiff of sexual assault in 2015 while the two were students at Yale University. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in finding (1) Defendant to enjoy absolute quasi-judicial immunity for statements made at the 2018 Yale disciplinary hearing that resulted in Plaintiff’s expulsion from the university and (2) Plaintiff’s tortious interference claims based on Defendant’s original 2015 accusations to be untimely. On preliminary review, the Second Circuit was unable to determine whether Connecticut would recognize the Yale disciplinary hearing at issue as a quasi-judicial proceeding supporting absolute immunity in this case. Accordingly, the court certified questions pertinent to that determination to the Connecticut Supreme Court. That court responded that absolute immunity does not apply in this case because Yale’s disciplinary hearing was not a quasi-judicial proceeding in that it lacked procedural safeguards associated with judicial proceedings.   In response, The Second Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. The court explained that while the Connecticut Supreme Court recognized the possibility for participants in such a hearing to be shielded by qualified immunity, the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that Defendant is not presently entitled to dismissal on that ground because Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently pleads the malice necessary to defeat such immunity. With this guidance as to Connecticut law, the court concluded on this appeal that Plaintiff’s complaint should not have been dismissed against Defendant except as to his tortious interference claim based on 2015 statements, which is untimely. View "Khan v. Yale Univ." on Justia Law

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BioCorRx, Inc. (BioCorRx) was a publicly traded company primarily engaged in the business of providing addiction treatment services and related medication. It issued several press releases that allegedly made misrepresentations and improperly disclosed confidential information about a treatment it was developing for opioid overdose. VDM Biochemicals, Inc. (VDM) specializes in the synthesis and distribution of chemicals, reagents, and other specialty products for life science research. It owned a patent (the patent) for VDM-001, a compound with potential use as a treatment for opioid overdose. In September 2018, VDM and BioCorRx entered into a Mutual Nondisclosure & Confidentiality Agreement (the NDA), which restricted each party’s disclosure of confidential information as they discussed forming a business relationship. A month later, VDM and BioCorRx signed a Letter of Intent to Enter Definitive Agreement to Acquire Stake in Intellectual Property (the letter of intent). The letter of intent memorialized the parties’ shared desire whereby BioCorRx would partner with VDM to develop and commercialize VDM-001. BioCorRx and VDM never signed a formal contract concerning VDM-001. Their relationship eventually soured. BioCorRx filed a complaint (the complaint) against VDM; VDM cross-complained. In response, BioCorRx filed the anti-SLAPP motion at issue here, seeking to strike all the allegations from the cross-complaint concerning the press releases. The Court of Appeal found these statements fell within the commercial speech exemption of California's Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP statute) because they were representations about BioCorRx’s business operations that were made to investors to promote its goods and services through the sale of its securities. Since these statements were not protected by the anti-SLAPP statute, the Court reversed the part of the trial court’s order granting the anti-SLAPP motion as to the press releases. The Court affirmed the unchallenged portion of the order striking unrelated allegations. View "BioCorRx, Inc. v. VDM Biochemicals, Inc." on Justia Law

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Creighton Preparatory School expelled Plaintiff after he made lewd remarks about a teacher. Plaintiff sued Creighton under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 on the theory that the school had discriminated against him by failing to perform an “adequate and impartial investigation.” The district court granted Creighton’s motion to dismiss. It first dismissed the Title IX claim because Plaintiff had failed to “allege [that] his sex played any part in the disciplinary process at all.” Then, with the federal question gone, it declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff does not allege that Creighton faced external pressure to punish male students, much less gave in by expelling him. The court reasoned that without an allegation of that kind, the complaint fails to plausibly allege the sort of “causal connection between the flawed outcome and gender bias” required to make an erroneous outcome theory work.Further, the court wrote that treating men and women differently can support an inference of sex discrimination, but it requires identifying a similarly situated member of the opposite sex who has been “treated more favorably.” For Plaintiff, he had to find “a female accused of sexual harassment” who received better treatment. There are no female students at Creighton, an all-boys school, let alone any who have faced sexual-misconduct allegations. The court explained that to the extent that Plaintiff argues that believing them over him raises an inference of discrimination, there is nothing alleged that the school did so because of his sex. View "Elijah Wells v. Creighton Preparatory School" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Davis Boat Manufacturing-Nordic, Inc. (Davis Boat), which prevailed in a breach-of-contract action against Defendant applied for an order to sell Defendant’s home. The Stanislaus County Superior Court denied the application on the basis of Code of Civil Procedure section 699.730, a recently added statute that prohibits the forced sale of a judgment debtor’s principal place of residence to satisfy a “consumer debt” except under certain circumstances.   The Fifth Appellate affirmed. The court rejected Davis Boat’s assertions on appeal and held that the definition of “consumer debt” in section 669.730 is not latently ambiguous, and that section 669.730 neither violates the contract nor the equal protection clauses of the federal and state Constitutions. The court explained that section 699.730, subdivision (a) defines “consumer debt” as “debt incurred by an individual primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” Thus, a debt incurred for business or commercial reasons would not be a debt incurred for “personal, family, or household purposes.” The court wrote that notwithstanding the plain meaning of the statute, Davis Boat suggests “consumer debt” is latently ambiguous. The court reasoned that it does not believe that the purpose of Assembly Bill No. 2463 is frustrated simply because the language approved by the Legislature means debt incurred by an individual primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” Moreover, the court wrote that it cannot deem a statutory exemption that allows financial institutions to force the sale of a judgment debtor’s principal place of residence to satisfy a high-priced debt “so devoid of even minimal rationality that it is unconstitutional as a matter of equal protection. View "Davis Boat Manufacturing-Nordic, Inc. v. Smith" on Justia Law