Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association v. Kiran Ahuja
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) administers retirement benefits for civilian employees of the U.S. government. OPM typically pays retirement benefits to retirees themselves. But when a retiree’s benefits are subject to division pursuant to a divorce decree, OPM divides them between the retiree and his or her former spouse according to the terms of the decree. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (Association) brought this action against OPM in district court, claiming that OPM’s method of apportioning one type of retirement benefit, the Annuity Supplement, violates the Administrative Procedure Act. OPM moved to dismiss the complaint on jurisdictional grounds. The district court acknowledged that federal employees’ claims for retirement benefits are generally routed through that system of review, but held that the Association’s claims fell within an exception allowing pre-enforcement challenges to agency rules to proceed in district court. Exercising jurisdiction, the district court dismissed one of the Association’s counts for failure to state a legally cognizable claim and, after the administrative record was filed, granted summary judgment to OPM as to the others. The DC Circuit vacated the district court’s orders and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The court held that the CSRA’s system of review—which channels disputes about FERS retirement benefits through an administrative process, subject to direct review in the Federal Circuit—precludes district court review of the Association’s claims. View "Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association v. Kiran Ahuja" on Justia Law
Gonzalez v. Blue Cross Blue Shield
Plaintiff is a former federal employee and participant in a health-insurance plan (“Plan”) that is governed by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act (“FEHBA”). The Plan stems from a contract between the federal Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and certain of its affiliates (together, “Blue Cross”). Blue Cross administers the Plan under OPM’s supervision. Plaintiff suffered from cancer, and she asked Blue Cross whether the Plan would cover the proton therapy that her physicians recommended. Blue Cross told her the Plan did not cover that treatment. So Plaintiff chose to receive a different type of radiation treatment, one that the Plan did cover. The second-choice treatment eliminated cancer, but it also caused devastating side effects. Plaintiff then sued OPM and Blue Cross, claiming that the Plan actually does cover proton therapy. As against OPM, she seeks the “benefits” that she wanted but did not receive, as well as an injunction directing OPM to compel Blue Cross to reform its internal processes by, among other things, covering proton therapy in the Plan going forward. As against Blue Cross, she seeks monetary damages under Texas common law. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that neither the advance process nor the proton-therapy guideline poses an immediate threat of injury, so injunctive relief is therefore unavailable. Further, the court found that FEHBA preempts Plaintiff’s common-law claims against Blue Cross. Accordingly, the court held that no relief is available under the relevant statutory and regulatory regime. View "Gonzalez v. Blue Cross Blue Shield" on Justia Law
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
McCutcheon v. Colgate-Palmolive Co.
Plaintiffs brought a class action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), arguing that Defendant Colgate-Palmolive Co. miscalculated residual annuities based on an erroneous interpretation of its retirement income plan and improperly used a pre-retirement mortality discount to calculate residual annuities, thereby working an impermissible forfeiture of benefits under ERISA. The district court granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs on these claims. Colgate appealed that order and the final judgment of the district court. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the text of the RAA is unambiguous and requires Colgate to calculate a member's residual annuity by subtracting the AE of LS from that member's winning annuity under Appendix C Section 2(b). Further, the court wrote that Colgate's "same-benefit" argument does not disturb our conclusion that the RAA's language is unambiguous. Because "unambiguous language in an ERISA plan must be interpreted and enforced in accordance with its plain meaning," the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the class Plaintiffs as to Error 1. View "McCutcheon v. Colgate-Palmolive Co." on Justia Law
City of Chelsea v. New England Police Benevolent Ass’n, Local 192
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the trial judge granting the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the New England Police Benevolent Association, Inc., Local 192 (NEPBA), denying the city of Chelsea's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and confirming the underlying arbitration award in this labor dispute, holding that the trial court did not err in confirming the arbitration award.After NEPBA replaced another union as the exclusive bargaining representative for the emergency dispatchers in the city, NEPBA sought to arbitrate a grievance regarding an emergency dispatcher's termination following the change in union representation. While the NEPBA and city bargained to a new contract, employees had been working under the city's prior collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the former union. Because the CBA contained an arbitration provision, the arbitrator ruled that the dispute was arbitrable. The superior court confirmed the decision. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the dispute was arbitrable. View "City of Chelsea v. New England Police Benevolent Ass'n, Local 192" 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
Core and Main, LP v. Ron McCabe
Core and Main LP (“C&M”) supplies water, wastewater, storm drainage, and fire protection products and services to commercial and governmental customers. C&M acquired the assets of Minnesota Pipe and Equipment Company (“MPE”), which supplied the same products and services in areas of Minnesota and South Dakota. Defendant, one of the shareholders, was part of MPE’s management team. Defendant started work at Dakota Supply Group, Inc. (“DSG”), a C&M competitor. C&M brought a diversity action against Defendant and DSG, asserting breach of the Employment Agreement’s noncompete and confidentiality covenants, tortious interference, and related claims. The district court granted Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The main issue on appeal is whether the court correctly concluded that the Noncompetition Agreement was a later agreement and, therefore, its Entire Agreement provision superseded the restrictive covenants. The Eighth Circuit concluded that the breach of contract and tortious interference claims turn on fact-intensive issues that cannot be determined on the pleadings. Accordingly, the court reversed the dismissal of those claims and otherwise affirmed. The court explained that it agreed with C&M that it is at least plausible the two Agreements covered different subject matters, making Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal inappropriate. The Noncompetition Agreement restricting MPE shareholders from engaging or investing in a competing business was geographically broad, but its duration was precisely limited to a specific term for each restricted party. In addition, the court concluded that in the context of the multiple agreements that completed the Asset Purchase transaction, the term “prior or contemporaneous” in the Noncompetition Agreement’s Entire Agreement provision is ambiguous. View "Core and Main, LP v. Ron McCabe" on Justia Law
Ross v. First Financial Corporate Services, Inc.
Ross worked as a sales representative for First Financial until 2018. Ross sued First Financial and two of its senior executives for sales commissions he claimed he was owed. Under the terms of his employment contract, Ross could earn a commission both when a customer first leased an item from First Financial and then at the end of a lease term, if the customer either extended the lease or purchased the equipment outright. In early 2017, First Financial acted to reduce future commission rates. Ross argued that First Financial breached his contract by applying the new, lower commission rates to end-of-lease transactions that occurred after the change took effect if the leases originally began before the change.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The company’s commission payments to Ross were correct because commissions on end-of-lease transactions are not earned until the customer actually agrees to and pays for the new transactions. Although Ross was reluctant to accept the new plan, he still accepted it by continuing to work for First Financial under its terms. View "Ross v. First Financial Corporate Services, Inc." on Justia Law
C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v. Traffic Tech, Inc.
Employees at C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. jumped ship to join Traffic Tech, Inc. C.H. Robinson then sued five of those former employees and Traffic Tech, raising various state-law claims, including tortious interference with a contractual relationship. After the case was removed to federal court, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the former employees and Traffic Tech. The district court also awarded attorney fees to the former employees and Traffic Tech The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, reversed the judgment in all other respects, and vacated the district court’s order awarding attorney fees and costs. The court held that Minnesota law applies to the interpretation and enforceability of Defendants’ employment contracts. The court remanded for the district court to consider whether C.H. Robinson’s claims or disputes against Peacock arose in California or elsewhere under Peacock’s employment contract. The court further remanded for the district court to substantively analyze whether all or part of the former employees’ contracts are unenforceable and, if not, whether the claims for breach of contract and tortious interference with a contractual relationship survive summary judgment. View "C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v. Traffic Tech, Inc." on Justia Law
Stryker Employment Co., LLC v. Abbas
Stryker develops, manufactures, and sells spinal implants and products, and employed Abbas from 2013-2022. Abbas purports to have worked exclusively within Stryker’s finance department. Stryker claims that Abbas worked in various roles, including in sales. Abbas regularly used significant amounts of Stryker’s confidential information and trade secrets and supported Stryker’s litigation efforts. Abbas entered into confidentiality, noncompetition, and nonsolicitation agreements with Stryker when he commenced his employment, and again in 2022.Alphatec competes with Stryker. Stryker alleges that Alphatec "systematically misappropriate[s] Stryker[’s] confidential information, trade secrets, customer goodwill, and talent” and is litigating against Alphatec and former Stryker employees in several cases. Abbas resigned from Stryker to take a newly-developed position with Alphatec, a sales role, “crafted to protect Stryker’s confidential information.” Stryker sued for breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the issuance of a preliminary injunction on behalf of Stryker. The district court crafted the injunction to preserve the status quo, reserving the possibility that other prospective jobs might be consistent with Abbas's employment agreement. It is not an impermissible industry-wide ban. Stryker is likely to succeed on the merits, based on findings that Abbas worked for Stryker in both sales and finance; Abbas had unfettered access to Stryker’s most sensitive sales and financial information, Stryker’s sales representatives, and key customer decision-makers; the Alphatec position involved work similar to the work Abbas performed for Stryker; and Abbas supported Stryker on litigation matters. View "Stryker Employment Co., LLC v. Abbas" on Justia Law