Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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Davidson Oil Company entered into a fixed-price requirements contract with the City of Albuquerque to supply all of the city's fuel needs for a year. Shortly after the contract was signed, fuel market prices dropped significantly. The city requested a price reduction, which Davidson Oil refused, citing potential losses due to hedge contracts it had entered into to protect against market fluctuations. The city then terminated the contract using a termination for convenience clause, prompting Davidson Oil to sue for breach of contract.The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico granted summary judgment in favor of Davidson Oil, awarding damages for the value of the hedge contracts. The court found that while the city did not breach the explicit terms of the contract, it violated an implied covenant by terminating the contract in bad faith to secure a better bargain elsewhere.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court's decision. The Tenth Circuit held that the City of Albuquerque breached the contract by exercising the termination for convenience clause solely to obtain a better deal from another supplier. The court emphasized that such an action violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing inherent in the contract. The court also upheld the district court's award of damages, including the hedge contract losses, as incidental damages under the Uniform Commercial Code, finding them to be commercially reasonable and directly resulting from the breach. View "Davidson Oil Company v. City of Albuquerque" on Justia Law

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AGK Sierra De Montserrat, L.P. (AGK) entered into a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) with Comerica Bank (Comerica) for the purchase of lots in a residential subdivision. The PSA included an indemnity provision requiring Comerica to indemnify AGK against claims arising from Comerica's position as the declarant. After the sale, Westwood Montserrat, Ltd. (Westwood) initiated several lawsuits against AGK, claiming declarant rights. Comerica refused to indemnify AGK, leading AGK to sue Comerica for breach of the indemnity provision.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California found that Comerica breached the indemnity agreement and awarded AGK attorney fees incurred in the underlying lawsuits with Westwood. Additionally, the district court, relying on the Ninth Circuit's decision in DeWitt v. Western Pacific Railroad Co., awarded AGK attorney fees for the present breach of contract suit against Comerica. Comerica appealed the award of attorney fees for the present litigation.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed the case and reversed the district court's award of attorney fees for the present litigation. The Ninth Circuit held that DeWitt was only binding in the absence of subsequent indications from California courts that the interpretation was incorrect. Since DeWitt, California appellate courts have uniformly indicated that first-party attorney fees are not recoverable under an indemnity provision unless explicitly stated. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case for the district court to determine whether the attorney fees were otherwise recoverable under the PSA's attorney fees provision. The court emphasized that indemnity provisions generally cover third-party claims, not first-party litigation costs, unless specific language indicates otherwise. View "AGK SIERRA DE MONTSERRAT, L.P. V. COMERICA BANK" on Justia Law

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Yorktown Systems Group Inc. and Threat Tec LLC, both defense contractors, entered into a mentor-protégé relationship under the Small Business Administration’s program to jointly pursue government contracts. They formed a joint venture (JV) and were awarded a $165 million contract with the U.S. Army. The JV agreement allocated specific work shares to each company. However, the relationship soured, and Threat Tec attempted to terminate Yorktown’s subcontract, effectively cutting Yorktown out of its share of the contract.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama granted Yorktown a preliminary injunction, preventing Threat Tec from terminating the subcontract and depriving Yorktown of its rights under the JV agreement. The court found that Yorktown had shown a substantial likelihood of success on its breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims and faced irreparable harm. The court noted that Threat Tec’s CEO had made false statements and lacked candor, leading to the belief that Threat Tec’s motives were unethical.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court’s decision. The appellate court found no clear error in the district court’s factfindings and concluded that the district court acted within its discretion. The court held that Threat Tec, as the managing member of the JV, owed fiduciary duties of loyalty and care to Yorktown and likely breached those duties by attempting to cut Yorktown out of its contractually specified workshare. The court also agreed that Yorktown faced irreparable harm, including potential damage to its business reputation and the loss of highly skilled employees, which could not be remedied by monetary damages alone. View "Yorktown Systems Group Inc. v. Threat TEC LLC" on Justia Law

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Shawn Slezak, a mechanic for Lancaster County, Nebraska, filed a grievance after his performance evaluation for 2021 was completed late and by higher-level supervisors rather than his direct supervisor. The evaluation, which was below the threshold for a merit increase, was delayed due to discrepancies between numerical ratings and written comments. Slezak argued that the late evaluation violated the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and sought a merit increase.The Lancaster County Personnel Policy Board found that the late evaluation constituted a breach of contract and awarded Slezak a retroactive merit increase. The County challenged this decision, arguing that the remedy was improper since Slezak's evaluation score did not warrant a merit increase. The District Court for Lancaster County agreed with the County, reversing the Board's decision on the grounds that the remedy made Slezak "more than whole" and was inconsistent with the objective of a damages award in a breach of contract case.The Nebraska Supreme Court reviewed the case and affirmed the District Court's decision. The Court held that the Board's remedy was inappropriate because it exceeded the scope of a damages award in a breach of contract case. The Court emphasized that the objective of such an award is to make the injured party whole, not to provide a benefit they would not have received if the contract had been performed. The Court also noted that Slezak's score on the late evaluation was below the threshold required for a merit increase, and thus, the delay in the evaluation did not cause his injury. The Court concluded that the District Court did not err in reversing the Board's decision and affirmed the order. View "Lancaster County v. Slezak" on Justia Law

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In 2006, David and Jill Landrum, along with Michael and Marna Sharpe, purchased land in Madison County to develop a mixed-use project called the Town of Livingston. The project stalled due to the 2008 financial crisis and legal issues. In 2010, Jill and Marna formed Livingston Holdings, LLC, which owned the development properties. Marna contributed more financially than Jill, leading to a disparity in ownership interests. In 2014, Marna sold her interest to B&S Mississippi Holdings, LLC, managed by Michael Bollenbacher. Jill stopped making her required monthly contributions in December 2018.The Madison County Chancery Court disqualified Jill as a derivative plaintiff, realigned Livingston Holdings as a defendant, and dismissed several claims. The court found that Jill did not fairly and adequately represent the interests of the company due to personal interests and economic antagonisms. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of several defendants and denied the Landrums' remaining claims after a bench trial.The Supreme Court of Mississippi reviewed the case and affirmed the lower court's decision to disqualify Jill as a derivative plaintiff and exclude the Landrums' expert witness. The court found that Jill's personal interests and actions, such as failing to make required contributions and attempting to gain control of the company, justified her disqualification. The court also affirmed the dismissal of claims for negligent omission, misstatement of material facts, civil conspiracy, fraud, and fraudulent concealment due to the Landrums' failure to cite legal authority.However, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case on the issues of remedies and attorneys' fees under the Second Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the alleged breach of fiduciary duty between B&S and Jill. The court found that the chancellor erred in interpreting the Second MOU as providing an exclusive remedy and remanded for further proceedings to determine if Livingston is entitled to additional remedies and attorneys' fees. The court also remanded for factual findings on whether B&S breached its fiduciary duty to Jill regarding property distribution and tax loss allocation. View "Landrum v. Livingston Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, a law firm (HFM) appealed a trial court's judgment denying its third-party claim to $585,000 held in its client trust account. The funds were received from HFM's client, Mann, under a flat fee agreement for future legal services. Mann's judgment creditor, Dickson, served HFM with a notice of levy, asserting that the funds belonged to Mann. HFM contended that the funds belonged to it under the flat fee agreement.The Superior Court of San Diego County denied HFM's third-party claim, concluding that the funds belonged to Mann because HFM had not yet earned the fee by providing legal services. The court also denied HFM's motion for reconsideration, which sought to retain $53,457.95 of the funds based on a prior agreement with Mann. The court found that HFM failed to present this evidence initially and did not act with reasonable diligence.The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, State of California, affirmed the trial court's judgment. The appellate court held that under the Rules of Professional Conduct, a flat fee is not earned until legal services are provided, and HFM presented no evidence that it had performed any services under the agreement. The court also found that the location of the funds in the client trust account was not dispositive of ownership. Additionally, the appellate court upheld the trial court's denial of the motion for reconsideration, noting that HFM failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for not presenting the evidence earlier.The main holding is that a flat fee paid in advance for legal services is not earned until the services are provided, and funds in a client trust account are presumed to belong to the client unless the law firm can prove otherwise. The judgment denying HFM's third-party claim was affirmed. View "Dickson v. Mann" on Justia Law

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The case involves a 2009 loan transaction between TNE Limited Partnership (TNE) and the Muir Second Family Limited Partnership (the Muir Partnership) at a time when the Muir Partnership was dissolved. The plaintiffs, including the Muir Partnership, Dorothy Jeanne Muir, and Wittingham, LLC, sought to void the transaction. After a seven-day bench trial, the district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring the transaction void and denying their request for attorney fees.TNE appealed, arguing that the transaction was voidable, not void, and the plaintiffs cross-appealed the denial of attorney fees. The Utah Supreme Court, in Wittingham III, agreed with TNE that the transaction was voidable and remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the transaction bound the dissolved Muir Partnership and whether TNE was entitled to legal or equitable remedies. The court also instructed the district court to reconsider the attorney fees issue if plaintiffs renewed it on remand.On remand, the district court concluded that Nick Muir, who executed the transaction on behalf of the Muir Partnership, lacked both actual and apparent authority to bind the Partnership. The court also found that the plaintiffs were injured by the transaction and could void it. However, the court again denied the plaintiffs' request for attorney fees, interpreting the trust deed's fee provision as not applicable to the plaintiffs' action to invalidate the transaction. TNE's subsequent rule 60(b) motion, arguing that new authority from the Utah Supreme Court changed the controlling law on apparent authority, was denied.The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the district court's rulings. It held that TNE failed to show any manifestation of the Muir Partnership’s consent to Nick’s authority, either direct or indirect. The court also found that the district court did not err in allowing the Muir Partnership to void the transaction and that the plaintiffs were not entitled to attorney fees under the trust deed. View "Wittingham v. TNE Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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The case involves the restructuring of Puerto Rico's public debts under Title VI of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). The dispute centers on whether the final transaction documents or the preliminary documents control the terms of the debt restructuring. The preliminary documents included a Valid Claim Requirement, which stipulated that new bonds would only be issued if valid claims were made. However, the final transaction documents did not include this requirement.The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico initially approved the restructuring plan, which included the terms set forth in the preliminary documents. However, the court also noted that the final terms would be subject to the execution and delivery of definitive documents. When the final documents were executed, they did not include the Valid Claim Requirement. The district court later ruled that the final documents, not the preliminary ones, governed the transaction, and overruled objections based on the omission of the Valid Claim Requirement.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the case. The court affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the final transaction documents control the terms of the debt restructuring. The court emphasized that the preliminary documents were explicitly provisional and subject to final documentation. The final documents, which did not include the Valid Claim Requirement, were deemed to be the definitive terms of the restructuring. The court also noted that the Requisite Bondholders had approval rights over the final documents and did not object to the absence of the Valid Claim Requirement.Thus, the First Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling, concluding that the final transaction documents govern the debt restructuring, and the Valid Claim Requirement from the preliminary documents does not apply. View "FOMB v. AmeriNational Community Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Marek Matthews, a seaman and captain, filed a lawsuit against Tidewater, Inc. and Tidewater Crewing, Ltd., alleging that he was exposed to toxic chemicals during his employment, resulting in severe health issues including end-stage renal failure and stage IV cancer. Matthews, a Florida resident, claimed that the exposure occurred while working on offshore supply vessels in the Red Sea. His employment contract included a forum-selection clause mandating that any disputes be litigated in the High Court of Justice in London, England.Initially, Matthews and other plaintiffs filed the suit in Louisiana state court, asserting claims under the Jones Act and general maritime law. Tidewater removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and moved to dismiss it based on the forum-selection clause and, alternatively, for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds, finding the forum-selection clause valid and enforceable. Matthews's subsequent motion to reconsider the dismissal was denied.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed the case. The court affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the forum-selection clause was enforceable. The court applied a de novo review to the enforceability of the clause and an abuse of discretion standard to the forum non conveniens analysis. It concluded that Matthews did not meet the heavy burden of proving the clause was unreasonable under the circumstances, despite his health conditions and Louisiana's public policy against such clauses. The court emphasized the federal policy favoring the enforcement of forum-selection clauses in maritime contracts, which outweighed the conflicting state policy. View "Matthews v. Tidewater" on Justia Law

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A group of retired firefighters from the City of Columbia claimed that the City had promised them free lifetime health insurance. This promise was allegedly made through verbal statements, newsletters, and retirement letters. The dispute arose when the City Council required all active and retired employees under 65 to contribute to their health insurance premiums, and later extended this requirement to Medicare supplemental coverage for retirees over 65. The firefighters argued that the City should be held to its promise under the doctrine of promissory estoppel.Initially, the Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of the City, but the Court of Appeals reversed this decision, allowing the promissory estoppel claim to proceed. After a nonjury trial, Judge Sprouse ruled in favor of the City, and the Court of Appeals affirmed this decision, stating that the firefighters had not proven an unambiguous promise or reasonable reliance on such a promise.The Supreme Court of South Carolina reviewed the case and affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision but modified the reasoning. The Supreme Court found that the firefighters did not prove the City made a clear promise of free lifetime health insurance. Additionally, the Court emphasized that the City Council, not individual employees, had the authority to make such promises. The Court also clarified that promissory estoppel claims need only be proven by the greater weight of the evidence, not by clear and convincing evidence, except in cases involving specific performance of land transfers. The Court concluded that the firefighters had no right to rely on statements made by City employees who lacked the authority to bind the City. View "Cruz v. City of Columbia" on Justia Law