Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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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 revolves around a dispute over the estate of Neil Smeenk. Denise Schipke-Smeenk, Neil's wife, and Ryan Smeenk, Neil's son, are the parties involved. Denise and Neil had executed mutual and reciprocal wills in 2017, along with an agreement that neither would revoke or amend their wills without the other's written consent. However, after their relationship deteriorated, Neil executed a new will without Denise's consent, disinheriting her to the extent allowed under South Dakota law and naming his children as the primary beneficiaries. Neil passed away shortly after. Denise filed a petition for formal, unsupervised probate concerning the 2017 will, and Ryan filed a competing petition to probate the 2019 will.The circuit court determined that Neil's 2019 will was valid and should be admitted into probate. The court concluded that the couple's agreement did not render Neil's 2017 will irrevocable, though it may subject his estate to liability. Denise later filed a motion for approval of a creditor claim in which she proposed to distribute Neil's estate according to the terms of his 2017 will. The circuit court conducted a court trial regarding Denise’s claim, but ultimately denied Denise’s claim, stating that Denise did not demonstrate that the circumstances supported the equitable remedy of specific performance.In the Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota, Denise appealed the circuit court's decision. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s decision to deny Denise’s claim after a court trial. Denise then filed a motion for partial summary judgment relating to her breach of contract claim against the estate of her deceased husband, Neil Smeenk. She changed the type of relief she was requesting; she was now seeking money damages for the breach instead of the specific performance remedy she had pursued unsuccessfully in the previous case. However, the circuit court concluded that Denise was barred from litigating her breach of contract claim against Neil’s estate. Denise appealed this decision, but the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision, stating that Denise had a complete and fair opportunity to litigate her breach of contract claim in the prior proceeding. View "Estate Of Smeenk" on Justia Law

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The case involves Songie Adebiyi, a former Vice President of Student Services at South Suburban College in Illinois, who was terminated in 2019 due to alleged performance issues. Adebiyi claimed that her termination was in retaliation for filing a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. She sued the college and its president, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as breach of contract.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment to the college and its president, ruling that Adebiyi failed to show a causal link between her charge of discrimination and her termination. The court found that the evidence did not support Adebiyi’s retaliation claim. Adebiyi appealed the decision, arguing that the district court erred in dismissing her Title VII retaliation claim and abused its discretion when it denied her motion to amend the complaint and seek more discovery.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. The appellate court agreed with the lower court's finding that Adebiyi failed to demonstrate a causal link between her protected activity and the adverse employment action. The court found no evidence of pretext in the college's reasons for termination or suspicious timing between Adebiyi's filing of her EEOC and IDHR charge and her termination. The court also found no abuse of discretion in the district court's denial of Adebiyi's motion to file an amended complaint and take additional discovery. View "Adebiyi v. South Suburban College" on Justia Law

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GFS Industries, a Texas limited liability corporation, entered into an agreement with Avion Funding to receive $190,000 in exchange for $299,800 of GFS’s future receivables. GFS stated it had not filed, nor did it anticipate filing, any Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. However, two weeks after signing the agreement, GFS petitioned for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Western District of Texas and elected to proceed under Subchapter V, a 2019 addition to the Bankruptcy Code designed to streamline the Chapter 11 reorganization process for certain small business debtors. Avion filed an adversary complaint in GFS’s bankruptcy, claiming GFS obtained Avion’s financing by misrepresenting whether it anticipated filing for bankruptcy. Avion sought a declaration that GFS’s debt to Avion was therefore nondischargeable.The bankruptcy court agreed with GFS, ruling that in the Subchapter V context, only individuals, not corporations, can be subject to § 523(a) dischargeability actions. The court followed the reasoning of four bankruptcy courts and declined to follow the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision in Cantwell-Cleary Co. v. Cleary Packaging, LLC (In re Cleary Packaging, LLC), which held that the Subchapter V discharge exceptions apply to both individual and corporate debtors. The bankruptcy court ruled GFS’s debt to Avion was dischargeable and dismissed Avion’s complaint. Avion timely appealed to the district court.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit disagreed with the bankruptcy court's interpretation of the interplay between § 523(a) and § 1192(2). The court found that § 1192 governs discharging debts of a “debtor,” which the Code defines as encompassing both individual and corporate debtors. The court also noted that other Code provisions explicitly limit discharges to “individual” debtors, whereas § 1192 provides dischargeability simply for “the debtor.” The court concluded that 11 U.S.C. § 1192(2) subjects both corporate and individual Subchapter V debtors to the categories of debt discharge exceptions listed in § 523(a). Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of the bankruptcy court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Avion Funding v. GFS Industries" on Justia Law

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In this case, David W. Axelrod, as Trustee of the David W. Axelrod Family Trust, and Reid Limited Partnership (RLP), along with Michael Reid, an individual, were neighboring landowners in Teton County, Idaho. Axelrod purchased a parcel of land in 2003 that was not accessible by road. Reid, who owned and operated an organic dairy farm nearby, leased land adjacent to Axelrod's parcel. Axelrod had two options for building an access road: build along two easements provided in his deed or build onto an existing dirt road that came through the RLP property. Reid preferred Axelrod to build onto the existing dirt road, which Axelrod did in 2004. However, in 2011, the relationship between Axelrod and Reid began to sour, leading to a series of disputes and legal actions.The District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, State of Idaho, Teton County, initially concluded that Axelrod did not have an express easement for use of the RLP Easement, but he did have an easement by estoppel. The parties then executed a settlement agreement and stipulated to dismiss the suit. However, disagreements over the implementation of the settlement agreement led to further litigation. The district court granted Axelrod's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Reid, as the nonmoving party, had failed to properly support any assertion of fact or address the assertions of fact in Axelrod’s motion for summary judgment.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against Reid individually and affirmed the district court’s judgment dismissing RLP’s counterclaims for conversion and violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The Supreme Court also affirmed the judgment of the district court on Axelrod’s breach of contract claim and the judgment of the district court refusing to allow amendment of the pleadings to add Reid Family Limited Partnership (RFLP) as a party. However, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the district court dismissing RLP’s trespass claim and remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court also vacated the attorney fee award as against RLP and remanded for determination of an appropriate fee award at the conclusion of the proceedings. View "Axelrod v. Reid Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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A group of neurosurgeons and their practice group, Comprehensive Neurosurgical, P.C., sued The Valley Hospital after the hospital granted another group of neurosurgeons exclusive privileges in areas where the plaintiffs had previously held privileges. The plaintiffs claimed that the hospital did not deal with them fairly or act in good faith when it granted these exclusive privileges. The plaintiffs had joined the hospital's medical staff in 2003 and had helped grow the hospital's neurosurgical programs and facilities. They primarily derived their practice from treating "unassigned" ER patients and also received "specialized privileges" to use certain equipment. In 2015, the hospital granted a different group of neurosurgeons exclusive rights to use this equipment and to treat "unassigned" ER patients, thereby revoking the plaintiffs' privileges in those areas.The plaintiffs filed a complaint against the hospital. Following summary judgment motions, two claims reached the jury: a breach of contract claim and a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim. The jury found no cause of action on the breach of contract claim but awarded damages based on the breach of implied covenant claim. The hospital appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed both the denial of summary judgment and the jury’s verdict. The hospital then petitioned for certification.The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the plaintiffs’ good faith and fair dealing claim properly survived summary judgment, but the jury was not correctly charged or asked to rule on that claim. The court found that the trial judge failed to instruct the jury that the only underlying contract to which the implied covenant could attach had to be one beyond the rights afforded by the Bylaws. The court also found that the improper admission into evidence of privileged emails and the improper remarks by plaintiffs’ attorney had the capacity to lead the jury to reach a verdict it would not have otherwise reached and thus deprived the hospital of a fair trial. The court reversed the verdict on the implied covenant claim, vacated it, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Comprehensive Neurosurgical, P.C. v. The Valley Hospital" 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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This case involves a dispute among Players Recreation Group, LLC, an Alabama limited-liability company, three of its members, Jason L. McCarty, Felix McCarty, and Doyle Sadler, and S&M Associates, Inc., a company owned by Sadler. The LLC, established in 1999, owns and operates a bowling alley known as 'the Super Bowl.' In 2003, S&M, a company owned by Sadler, loaned the LLC $150,000, which is evidenced by a promissory note. In 2006, the Super Bowl began incurring substantial losses, and the LLC ultimately defaulted on the promissory note payable to S&M. In July 2015, S&M and Sadler sued the LLC and the other members of the LLC, asserting a breach-of-contract claim and a claim seeking an accounting. In August 2015, the LLC, Jason, and Felix filed an answer and a counterclaim, alleging that Sadler had breached his duty of loyalty and his duty of care to the LLC.The case proceeded to a bench trial. The parties initially stipulated that the LLC owed S&M a total of $310,139.66 on the promissory note; the trial court ultimately entered a judgment against the LLC for that amount based on the parties' stipulation. The case was then tried solely on the counterclaims asserted against Sadler by the LLC, Jason, and Felix. The trial court entered a judgment against Sadler on the counterclaims, based on its findings that Sadler had breached not only a duty of loyalty and a duty of care to the LLC, but also the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing owed to the LLC. The trial court assessed damages against Sadler in the amount of $368,167.92.On appeal to the Supreme Court of Alabama, Sadler argued that the trial court erred insofar as it entered a judgment against him on the counterclaims asserted against him by the LLC, Jason, and Felix. The Supreme Court of Alabama agreed and reversed the judgment entered against Sadler on the counterclaims asserted against him because there was no evidence to support findings that Sadler had breached the duty of loyalty and the duty of care owed to the LLC or the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and remanded the case to the trial court for the entry of a judgment consistent with this opinion.On remand, S&M and Sadler filed a motion for attorney's fees, costs, and expenses. The trial court denied the motions for attorney's fees, costs, and expenses. The trial court also found that the LLC had incurred $2,713,230.33 in expenses without contribution by Sadler or Scott Montgomery. That finding was not disturbed on appeal and has become the law of the case. The trial court took judicial notice that Jason and Felix McCarty have perfected, as the remaining members of the LLC, that claim or debt by filing a second mortgage with the Probate Court of Jefferson County, which second mortgage is inferior to the mortgage held by the late Ferris Ritchey’s real estate company, and the perfection of this claim makes it a priority over and superior to the claims of other creditors, including S&M.S&M and Sadler appealed the trial court's order on remand. The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the trial court's order on remand insofar as it denied S&M's and Sadler's requests for attorney's fees and costs, reversed the order insofar as it addressed the LLC's mortgage executed in favor of Jason and Felix and its purported priority, and remanded this case with instructions for the trial court to set aside that portion of its order that addressed the LLC's mortgage and its purported priority. View "S&M Associates, Inc. v. Players Recreation Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and the cities of Conroe and Magnolia, Texas. The SJRA and the cities had entered into contracts obligating the cities to buy surface water from the SJRA. When a disagreement over fees and rates arose, the cities stopped paying their full balances, leading the SJRA to sue the cities for recovery of those amounts. The cities claimed immunity from the suit as government entities.Previously, the trial court had granted the cities' plea to the jurisdiction, and the court of appeals affirmed this decision. The court of appeals held that the SJRA had not engaged in pre-suit mediation as required by the contracts, and therefore, the cities' immunity was not waived.The Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with the lower courts' decisions. The court held that contractual procedures for alternative dispute resolution, such as pre-suit mediation, do not limit the statutory waiver of immunity for contractual claims against local government entities. The court also found that the mediation requirement did not apply to the SJRA's claims. Furthermore, the court rejected the cities' argument that the agreements did not fall within the waiver because they failed to state their essential terms.Consequently, the Supreme Court of Texas reversed the lower courts' decisions and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings to resolve the SJRA's claims on the merits. View "San Jacinto River Authority v. City of Conroe" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between a developer, Campbellton Road, Ltd., and the City of San Antonio, specifically the San Antonio Water System (SAWS). The developer entered into a contract with SAWS in 2003, which included an option for the developer to participate in and fund the construction of off-site oversized infrastructure for a municipal water system. The developer planned to develop two residential subdivisions and needed sewer service for them. The contract stated that if the developer decided to participate in the off-site oversizing project, a contract would form, and the developer would earn credits that could be used to satisfy some or all of the collection component of assessed impact fees.The Court of Appeals for the Fourth District of Texas concluded that the Local Government Contract Claims Act did not apply, and therefore did not waive immunity, because there was no agreement for providing services to the system. The court held that the system had no contractual right to receive any services and would not have “any legal recourse” if the developer “unilaterally decided not to proceed.”The Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court held that the Act waived the system’s immunity from suit because the developer adduced evidence that a contract formed when the developer decided to and did participate in the off-site oversizing project. The court found that the contract stated the essential terms of an agreement for the developer to participate in that project, and the agreement was for providing a service to the system that was neither indirect nor attenuated. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Campbellton Road, Ltd. v. City of San Antonio" on Justia Law