Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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In October 2018, Molitor Equipment, LLC purchased two tractors from Deere & Company. These tractors were a transitional model and did not include engine compartment fire shields as standard equipment, which were included in the subsequent 2019 model. A year after purchase, both tractors caught fire in separate incidents. Molitor had an insurance policy with SECURA Insurance Company, who paid Molitor's claim and then pursued Molitor's warranty claims against Deere. SECURA claimed the tractors were defective and unreasonably dangerous due to the absence of the fire shields and that Deere's warranty obligated them to remedy the problem or refund the purchase prices.Deere moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that its warranty only covered manufacturing defects, not design defects. The district court granted Deere's motion, dismissing SECURA's breach of warranty claim to the extent it was based on a design defect theory. The case proceeded on a manufacturing defect theory. At the close of discovery, both parties moved for summary judgment. Deere argued that since the tractors conformed to their intended design, there was no manufacturing defect. The district court granted Deere's motion, holding that SECURA could not establish its breach of warranty claim because Deere's warranty covers defects only in "materials or workmanship."On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions. The appellate court agreed with the district court's interpretation of Deere's warranty, concluding that it did not cover design defects. The court also agreed that SECURA could not establish a breach of warranty claim based on a manufacturing defect, as the tractors conformed to their intended design. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of SECURA's design defect claim and its grant of summary judgment to Deere on the manufacturing defect claim. View "Secura Insurance Company v. Deere & Company" on Justia Law

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The case involves an insurance claim filed by Christine and Roy Cosme after their insurer, Erie Insurance Exchange, cancelled their automobile insurance policy. The policy listed their son, Broyce Cosme, as a driver. The cancellation was due to a misunderstanding between Broyce and the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which led to the suspension of Broyce's license. The Cosmes were informed that their policy would be cancelled unless they submitted a coverage-exclusion form removing Broyce from the policy. However, due to conflicting advice from their insurance agent at Churilla Insurance, the Cosmes did not submit the form before the deadline. The policy was cancelled, and shortly after, the Cosmes were involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist. Erie denied their claim, stating that their policy was no longer in effect at the time of the accident.The trial court granted a directed verdict in favor of Erie and Churilla, reasoning that the Cosmes brought about their own lack-of-coverage injuries when they failed to sign the exclusion form before the deadline. The court of appeals affirmed this decision, holding that the Cosmes failed to present sufficient evidence to support their claims against Erie and Churilla.The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court's directed verdict for Erie, affirming as to Churilla, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that at the directed-verdict stage, the court can review whether inferences from the evidence are reasonable, but it cannot weigh conflicting evidence or assess witness credibility. Applying this standard, the court found that the trial court erred in directing the verdict for Erie as the Cosmes’ case-in-chief presented sufficient (though conflicting) evidence to prove Erie breached its contract and violated its duty of good faith. However, the court correctly granted judgment to Churilla because the evidence showed Churilla owed no special duty to the Cosmes to procure insurance or advise on the insurance policy. View "Cosme v. Warfield" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the City of Chicago contracted with Walsh Construction Company to manage the construction of a canopy and curtain wall system at O’Hare International Airport. Walsh subcontracted with LB Steel, LLC to fabricate and install steel columns to support the wall and canopy. Several years into the project, the City discovered cracks in the welds of the steel columns and sued Walsh for breaching its contract. Walsh, in turn, sued LB Steel under its subcontract. Walsh also asked LB Steel’s insurers to defend it in the City’s lawsuit, but they never did. Walsh eventually secured a judgment against LB Steel, which led it to declare bankruptcy. Walsh then sued LB Steel’s insurers to recover the costs of defending against the City’s suit and indemnification for any resulting losses.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff insurers on both issues. The court reasoned that, because the physical damage at issue was limited to LB Steel’s own products, it did not constitute “property damage” as that term appears in the policies, thereby precluding coverage. As for the duty to defend, the court determined that the Insurers had none, because the City’s underlying claims did not implicate potential coverage under LB Steel’s policies.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the defects in the welds and columns do not constitute “property damage” under LB Steel’s commercial general liability (CGL) policies. The court also found that the insurers had no duty to defend Walsh in the City’s underlying suit. The court further affirmed the district court's denial of Walsh’s request for sanctions under § 155. View "St. Paul Guardian Insurance Company v. Walsh Construction Company" 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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Yasmin Varela filed a class action lawsuit against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) after a car accident. Varela's insurance policy with State Farm entitled her to the "actual cash value" of her totaled car. However, she alleged that State Farm improperly adjusted the value of her car based on a "typical negotiation" deduction, which was not defined or mentioned in the policy. Varela claimed this deduction was arbitrary, did not reflect market realities, and was not authorized by Minnesota law. She sued State Farm for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and violation of the Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act (MCFA).State Farm moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Varela's claims were subject to mandatory, binding arbitration under the Minnesota No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act (No-Fault Act). The district court granted State Farm's motion in part, agreeing that Varela's claims for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and unjust enrichment fell within the No-Fault Act's mandatory arbitration provision. However, the court found that Varela's MCFA claim did not seek the type of relief addressed by the No-Fault Act and was neither time-barred nor improperly pleaded, and thus denied State Farm's motion to dismiss this claim.State Farm appealed, arguing that Varela's MCFA claim was subject to mandatory arbitration and should have been dismissed. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court found that State Farm did not invoke the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) in its motion to dismiss and did not file a motion to compel arbitration. The court concluded that the district court's order turned entirely on a question of state law, and the policy contained no arbitration provision for the district court to "compel." Therefore, State Farm failed to establish the court's jurisdiction over the interlocutory appeal. View "Varela v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The case involves Century Aluminum Company and its subsidiaries (Century), and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London (Lloyd's). Century uses river barges to transport alumina ore and other materials for its aluminum smelting operations. In 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers closed key locks on the Ohio River, causing Century to seek alternative transportation. Century filed a claim with Lloyd's, its maritime cargo insurance policy provider, for the unanticipated shipping expenses. While Lloyd's paid $1 million under the policy's Extra Expense Clause, it denied coverage for the rest of the claim.The case was first heard by the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Century sought a declaration that its denied claims were covered by the insurance policy and requested damages for Lloyd's alleged breach of contract among other violations of Kentucky insurance law. Lloyd's sought summary judgment, arguing that the policy did not cover the claims. The district court sided with Lloyd's.The appeal was heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Century argued that the policy's All Risks Clause, Risks Covered Clause, Shipping Expenses Clause, and Sue and Labour Clause required Lloyd's to cover the additional shipping expenses. The court rejected these arguments, affirming the district court's ruling. The court held that under the All Risks Clause and Risks Covered Clause, Century's alumina did not suffer any physical loss or damage. As for the Shipping Expenses Clause, it covered the risk of a failed delivery, not an untimely one. Lastly, under the Sue and Labour Clause, Century was required to mitigate Lloyd's exposure under the policy, but it did not obligate Lloyd's to pay anything for reducing losses that fall outside the policy. View "Century Aluminum Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London" on Justia Law

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The case involves Indemnity Insurance Company of North America ("Indemnity") and Unitrans International Corporation ("Unitrans"). Indemnity, as the insurer of Amgen, a pharmaceutical company, paid for the loss of a pallet of pharmaceutical drugs that was damaged while being unloaded from a truck at an airport. The pallet was being transported from Amgen's facility in Dublin, Ireland to Philadelphia, and Unitrans, a logistics company, had been engaged to arrange the transportation. Indemnity, as Amgen's subrogee, sued Unitrans for breach of contract, negligence, and breach of bailment.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted Unitrans's motion for summary judgment, ruling that Unitrans qualified as a contracting carrier under the Montreal Convention, and therefore, Indemnity's action was time-barred by the Convention's statute of limitations.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed that contracting carriers are subject to the Montreal Convention, but found that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Unitrans was a contracting carrier. The court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court held that a contracting carrier, as defined by Article 39 of the Montreal Convention, is a person that, as a principal, makes a contract of carriage governed by the Montreal Convention with a consignor, and an actual carrier performs the whole or part of the carriage by virtue of authority from the contracting carrier. The court found that there was enough evidence cutting both ways to create a genuine question as to whether Unitrans qualifies as a contracting carrier. View "Indemnity Inssurance Co. of North America v. Unitrans International Corp." on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") brought a lawsuit against Michael Angelo, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). The lawsuit claimed that Angelo submitted fraudulent bills to the insurance company. Angelo later filed a separate action against State Farm under the False Claims Act ("FCA"), alleging that the insurance company wrongfully avoided paying medical benefits. This action was unknown to State Farm at the time because FCA complaints are required to be filed under seal.The two parties entered into a settlement agreement in February 2021, resolving the RICO action. As part of the agreement, Angelo agreed to take all necessary steps to dismiss certain claims against State Farm. After the settlement agreement was signed, the FCA complaint was unsealed and served on State Farm. State Farm then sought to enforce the settlement agreement, arguing that it required Angelo to dismiss the FCA action as well.Angelo argued that the settlement agreement did not apply to the FCA action because the FCA claims were unrelated to the settled RICO claims. However, the district court disagreed and ordered Angelo to seek the government's consent to dismiss his FCA claims against State Farm. Angelo appealed this decision, claiming it violated his First Amendment rights and the FCA.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, stating that the settlement agreement clearly encompassed the FCA action. The court also held that the district court had not erred in requiring Angelo to seek the government's consent to dismiss his FCA claims. Angelo's First Amendment claim was deemed forfeited as it was raised for the first time in a motion for reconsideration and was thus untimely. View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Angelo" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a class action lawsuit that involved a life insurance policy dispute between plaintiff Worth Johnson and defendant Protective Life Insurance Company. Johnson alleged that Protective breached its contract by not reassessing and adjusting its cost of insurance (COI) rates based exclusively on expectations of future mortality experience. The district court granted Protective’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that Protective did not breach its insurance contract.On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in part, agreeing that the policy did not require Protective to reassess and redetermine its COI rates based exclusively on its expectations as to future mortality experience. However, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of Johnson's alternative claim that Protective did reassess and redetermine its COI rates, but ignored its expectations as to future mortality experience when doing so. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its ruling. View "Johnson v. Protective Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In a dispute arising from a failed subdivision in Missoula County, Montana, a group of property purchasers, led by Gilbert and Judith Johnston, claimed that Flying S Title and Escrow, Inc., breached a purported contract to provide title insurance for the properties they bought. The properties were originally platted as lots, but the purchasers believed that they would eventually be reconfigured into larger parcels. However, the necessary infrastructure was not installed and the amended plat was never recorded, so the parcels never came into existence. The purchasers claimed that pro forma documents provided by Flying S constituted a contract to insure the parcels. The Supreme Court of Montana disagreed, ruling that the pro forma documents did not constitute a contract, but were merely an offer to issue a title insurance policy for the parcels, subject to the terms stated in the documents. The court noted that a contract for title insurance could not exist under the pro forma documents because the parcels, and the title thereto, never existed. Furthermore, the court found that Flying S had not been unjustly enriched by the purchasers' premium payments because it had provided, as agreed, title insurance for the transaction completed by the purchasers to buy the lots. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision in favor of Flying S Title and Escrow, Inc. View "Johnston v. Flying S Title & Escrow, Inc." on Justia Law