Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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In this case, the plaintiff, Jordan Nissensohn, as the administrator of the Estate of Michael Nissensohn, filed a suit against University Medical Group (UMG), Dr. Alan Epstein, and Dr. Steven Sepe, alleging numerous claims including defamation, breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations, conversion, and violations of the Rhode Island Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (RIWPA). The Superior Court entered a judgment in favor of the defendants, granting summary judgment.The plaintiff, Dr. Michael Nissensohn, had been employed as a gastroenterologist by UMG and was supervised by Dr. Epstein. The plaintiff had a series of disagreements and conflicts with Dr. Epstein over teaching responsibilities and alleged discrepancies in teaching compensation. The plaintiff also claimed that Dr. Epstein had disclosed his mental health information to another staff member, and had spread a rumor about his mental health. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that Dr. Epstein interfered with his prospective business relations with patients and his contract, and converted his personal laptop.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court held that the plaintiff did not demonstrate that he engaged in protected conduct under the RIWPA because he did not report actual violations of the law. The court also ruled that the plaintiff's defamation claim abated upon his death and therefore did not survive. Regarding the breach of contract claim, the court found that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence of a breach of the written agreement. The court further held that the plaintiff failed to show that Dr. Epstein intended to harm his contract, which was an essential element of his claim for tortious interference. Lastly, the court found that the plaintiff failed to provide any non-hearsay evidence to prove his demand and refusal, thus failing to establish his claim for conversion. View "Nissensohn v. CharterCARE Home Health Services" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between Griggs & Browne Pest Control Co., Inc. (plaintiff), and its former employee, Brian Walls (defendant). Upon hiring Walls in 2011, the parties entered into a noncompetition agreement, which was updated in 2020. The agreement stipulated that, in return for his training and access to the company's client list, Walls would refrain from soliciting business from or performing services for the company's current or former customers for 24 months after ending his employment with the company.In 2021, the company introduced a new policy requiring all employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination or terminate their employment. Walls vocally opposed the policy and was told he could no longer resume his employment. A month later, the company discovered that Walls was contacting their former clients and performing pest-control services for them, in violation of the noncompetition agreement. The company initiated a lawsuit to prevent Walls from further violating the agreement.The Superior Court of Rhode Island granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiff, which Walls appealed. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the lower court's decision, determining that the noncompetition agreement was valid and enforceable. The court rejected Walls' argument that he had been improperly terminated due to his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, noting that the circumstances surrounding his departure were immaterial to the enforcement of the noncompetition agreement. The court also found that the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm due to loss of customer goodwill if Walls were allowed to continue servicing the company's clients. The balance of equities favored the plaintiff, and the injunction was necessary to uphold the status quo. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision to grant a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiff. View "Griggs & Browne Pest Control Co., Inc. v. Walls" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho upheld a lower court's summary judgment in favor of the defendants, George and Jesse’s Les Schwab Tire Store, Inc., and two of its owners, Bruce and Richard Byram. The plaintiff, Adam Davis, had been employed as an assistant manager at Les Schwab from April 2016 till June 2019. In March 2019, there was a shortage in the cash deposits and surveillance footage showed Davis bending down out of camera view in the area where the cash deposits were kept while he was alone in the store. This led to Davis being arrested and charged with grand theft, and his employment was terminated. Although the charges against Davis were later dropped, he sued the defendants for breach of his employment contract, false arrest, defamation per se, and for knowingly giving a false report to the police. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on all of Davis’s claims. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, finding no genuine issue of material fact that could support Davis’s claims. The court found that Davis was an at-will employee who could be terminated without cause and that there was no evidence to show that the defendants had acted with malice. The court also found that the plaintiff's attorney had violated Rule 11.2 by submitting arguments that were not well grounded in fact, and awarded a portion of the defendants' attorney fees to be paid by the plaintiff's counsel. View "Davis v. George and Jesse's Les Schwab Tire Store, Inc." on Justia Law

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A married couple who owned a small dental practice, D.L. Markham DDS, MSD, Inc., established an employee pension benefit plan for their business. They hired Variable Annuity Life Insurance Company (VALIC) to maintain the plan. Dissatisfied with VALIC's services, they decided to terminate their contract and were informed by VALIC that they would be charged a 5% surrender fee on all of the plan’s assets. The couple sued, alleging VALIC violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by breaching its fiduciary duties and engaging in a prohibited transaction. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of their claims. The court held that VALIC did not act as a fiduciary when it collected the surrender fee, as it simply adhered to the contract by collecting the previously agreed-upon compensation. The court also found that VALIC was not a "party in interest" when it entered the contract, as it had not yet begun providing services to the plan. Finally, the court held that VALIC's collection of the surrender fee did not constitute a separate transaction under ERISA, as it was a payment in accordance with an existing agreement. The court also affirmed the district court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ request to amend their complaint due to undue delay and insufficient detail of their new allegations. View "Markham v. Variable Annuity Life" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Montana, the plaintiff, Kevin Barber, appealed against his former employer, Bradford Aquatic Group, LLC, alleging wrongful termination. Bradford Aquatic Group, a North Carolina-based company, had employed Barber as a Regional Business Development Manager for its Rocky Mountain region, which includes Montana. The employment contract between Barber and the company included a choice-of-law and forum selection clause, specifying that any disputes arising from the agreement would be governed by North Carolina law and adjudicated in North Carolina courts.Barber, a resident of Montana, argued that Montana law should apply to his claims of wrongful discharge, breach of contract, and bad faith, and that the suit should be heard in Montana. The district court dismissed Barber's claims due to improper venue, based on the choice-of-law and forum selection clauses in the employment agreement.Upon review, the Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the choice-of-law provision in the employment agreement was valid and that North Carolina law should apply to Barber's claims. The court also upheld the validity of the forum selection clause, concluding that it is enforceable under North Carolina law. Therefore, the court determined that the dispute should be adjudicated in North Carolina, not Montana. View "Barber v. Bradford Aquatic" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is a foreign worker hired by defendant Alco Harvesting LLC to work at farms owned by defendant and appellant Betteravia Farms. He later brought employment claims against appellants. Alco moved to compel arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement presented to and signed by Plaintiff at his orientation. The trial court found the agreement void and denied the motion. It considered arbitration a “material term and condition” of Plaintiff’s employment and as such, a job requirement that Alco should have disclosed during the H-2A certification process.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that Alco’s arbitration agreement required Plaintiff to forfeit his right to a jury trial in “any claim, dispute and/or controversy that [any] Employee may have against the Company . . . arising from, relating to or having any relationship or connection whatsoever with [or to the] Employee’s . . . employment by, or other association with the Company . . . .” The arbitration agreement also prohibited him from participating in any class action claims against Alco. Thus, the court considered the relinquishing of these rights as “material terms and conditions” of his employment. View "State of Cal. v. Alco Harvest" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose from an employment dispute between Dr. Margot Potter and her former employer, Women's Care Specialists, P.C. ("Women's Care"), and out of a dispute between Potter and three Women's Care employees: Dr. Karla Kennedy, Dr. Elizabeth Barron, and Beth Ann Dorsett ("the WC employees"). In case no. CV-21-903797, Potter alleged claims of defamation, tortious interference with a business relationship, and breach of contract against Women's Care. In case no. CV-21-903798, Potter alleged claims of defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship against the WC employees. After the cases were consolidated by the circuit court, Women's Care and the WC employees moved to compel arbitration on the basis that Potter's claims were within the scope of the arbitration provision in Potter's employment agreement with Women's Care and that the arbitration provision governed their disputes even though Potter was no longer a Women's Care employee. The trial court denied those motions. In appeal no. SC-2022-0706, the Alabama Supreme Court held Potter's breach of-contract claim and her tort claims against Women's Care were subject to arbitration. In appeal no. SC-2022-0707, the Court likewise held Potter's tort claims against the WC employees were subject to arbitration. The trial court's orders were denied and the cases remanded for further proceedings. View "Women's Care Specialists, P.C. v. Potter" on Justia Law

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Amanda Howard Real Estate, LLC ("Howard Real Estate"), appealed a partial summary judgment in favor of Clair Lee and JRHBW Realty, Inc. ("RealtySouth"), in Howard Real Estate's suit to enforce a noncompete agreement against Lee. The circuit court ruled that the noncompete agreement was void because it was not signed by both parties as required by statute. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment because none of Howard Real Estate's arguments established that it satisfied the statutory signatures requirement. View "Amanda Howard Real Estate, LLC v. Lee, et al." on Justia Law

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Antero Resources, Corp., an oil and gas production company, sued a former employee (“Appellant”)  for breach of fiduciary duty, alleging that Appellant abused his position of operations supervisor to award service contracts to companies owned by his close friend Tommy Robertson. Antero also alleged that, after winning the contracts, Robertson’s companies deliberately delayed providing “drillout” operations, resulting in millions of dollars of overbilling. A jury found Appellant liable in the amount of $11,897,689.39, which consists of $11,112,140.00 in damages and $775,549.39 as recoupment for the value Appellant received as a result of the breach. The district court entered a final judgment in the same amount, along with post-judgment interest. The district court ordered Appellant to pay pre-judgment interest and to forfeit 130,170 shares of stock in Antero Midstream. Appellant challenged the judgment on two bases.   The Fifth Circuit concluded that sufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding on damages. The court further held that the district court’s decision to deny Appellant the opportunity to pursue post-trial discovery was an abuse of discretion. The court explained that discovery is procedural; federal law governs the question of whether a party is entitled to take post-trial discovery. Discovery after evidence has closed is typically reserved for situations where the trial reveals a new basis for seeking further information. Accordingly, the court vacated the order denying Appellant’s motion to amend the judgment. The court remanded to reconsider whether to allow Appellant to pursue discovery relating to Antero’s settlement with the Robertson companies and whether to offset the judgment in light of that settlement. View "Antero Resources v. Kawcak" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court concluding that the City of Malden had violated the Massachusetts Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148 (the Wage Act) and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 44, 53C (the Municipal Finance Law), holding that there was no violation of the Wage Act or Municipal Finance Law in this case.Plaintiffs, City of Malden police officers, sued the City, arguing that a term in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that set the hourly rate for police detail work aligned with how they were historically paid and that a ten percent deduction for an administrative fee resulted in a reduction in their wages as set forth in the CBA, in violation of the Wage Act. The district court ruled that the contract term was ambiguous and, after hearing witness testimony, ruled that the City violated the Municipal Finance Law and the Wage Act. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) the contract term was unambiguous in favor of the City; (2) any reduction in the calculated rate still resulted in a higher payout than contemplated in the CBA, and therefore, there was no Wage Act violation; and (3) the district court clearly erred in finding that the City had violated the Municipal Finance Law. View "Owens v. City of Malden" on Justia Law