Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
Barton-Spencer v. Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co. of Michigan
The issue presented in this case was whether, by signing a contract providing that plaintiff agreed “to reimburse [defendants’] attorney fees and costs as may be fixed by the court,” the parties agreed that the amount of reasonable attorney fees would be fixed by a court rather than a jury. After review, the Supreme Court held that the parties did so agree. Accordingly, the Court vacated part of the Court of Appeals’ opinion and reversed that portion of the judgment that reversed the award of contractual attorney fees and costs, as well as that portion of the judgment that reversed the award of case evaluation sanctions. The Court otherwise denied the application and cross-application for leave to appeal and left in place the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ opinion. View "Barton-Spencer v. Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co. of Michigan" on Justia Law
Ronnisch Construction Group, Inc. v. Lofts on the Nine, LLC
At issue in this case was whether plaintiff, Ronnisch Construction Group (RCG), could seek attorney fees under section 118(2), MCL 570.1118(2), of the Construction Lien Act (CLA) from defendant Lofts on the Nine, LLC (LOTN), given that plaintiff received a favorable arbitration award on its related breach of contract claim but did not obtain a judgment on its construction lien claim. After review, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the trial court could award attorney fees to RCG because RCG was a lien claimant who prevailed in an action to enforce a construction lien through foreclosure. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Ronnisch Construction Group, Inc. v. Lofts on the Nine, LLC" on Justia Law
Innovation Ventures, LLC v. Liquid Manufacturing, LLC
In 2007, plaintiff Innovation Ventures, LLC engaged defendants Andrew Krause and K & L Development of Michigan (K & L Development) to design, manufacture, and install manufacturing and packaging equipment for the production of "5-Hour ENERGY" at Liquid Manufacturing’s bottling plant. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court's review centered on whether agreements between sophisticated businesses were void for failure of consideration and whether the noncompete provisions in these agreements were reasonable. Innovation Ventures alleged a variety of tort and breach of contract claims against Liquid Manufacturing, LLC, K & L Development of Michigan, LLC, Eternal Energy, LLC, LXR Biotech, LLC, Peter Paisley, and Andrew Krause based on the defendants’ production of Eternal Energy and other energy drinks. Contrary to the determination of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court concluded that the parties’ Equipment Manufacturing and Installation Agreement (EMI) and Nondisclosure Agreement were not void for failure of consideration. The Court nevertheless affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to defendants for the claims against Krause, because there was no genuine issue of material fact on the question whether Krause breached the EMI or the Nondisclosure Agreement. Likewise, there was no issue on the question whether K & L Development breached the EMI. The Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in failing to evaluate the noncompete provision in the parties’ Termination Agreement for reasonableness. The Court therefore reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for consideration of those questions of fact remaining regarding whether K & L Development breached the Nondisclosure Agreement and whether Liquid Manufacturing breached the Termination Agreement with respect to its production of products other than Eternal Energy. View "Innovation Ventures, LLC v. Liquid Manufacturing, LLC" on Justia Law
Altobelli v. Hartmann
In 1993, plaintiff Dean Altobelli began working as an attorney for Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C. (“the Firm”). Upon joining the Firm, plaintiff signed the “Miller Canfield Operating Agreement” (“Operating Agreement”), a document governing the Firm’s internal affairs. By January 2006, plaintiff had become a senior principal at the Firm. However, in late May or early June 2010, plaintiff decided he wanted to pursue a new opportunity as an assistant coach for the University of Alabama football team. Plaintiff proposed a 7- to 12-month leave of absence from the Firm to defendant Michael Hartmann, the Firm’s CEO, and defendant Michael Coakley, who was the head of the Firm’s litigation group but was not a managing director. Plaintiff suggested that the Firm permit him to maintain his ownership interest and return to the Firm as a senior principal any time before June 1, 2011. Plaintiff avers that Hartmann initially promised plaintiff that he could spend as much time at the University of Alabama as he wanted and still receive certain allocated income from his clients. Hartmann disputed this, claiming that plaintiff voluntarily withdrew from the partnership. Plaintiff claimed he was improperly terminated, and that the Firm shorted plaintiff's income as a result. Plaintiff's attempt to resolve the matter through the direct settlement and mediation process, as outlined in the arbitration clause of the Operating Agreement, was unsuccessful. In November 2011, plaintiff filed a demand for arbitration as provided for in the arbitration clause. Despite having made the demand for arbitration, he filed suit alleging that the seven individuals named as defendants were responsible for engaging in tortious conduct with regard to plaintiff's request for a leave of absence and retention of his equity ownership in the Firm. Defendants moved for summary judgment and a motion to compel arbitration as required by the arbitration clause. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment too. The circuit court denied defendants’ motions and granted plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment, finding as a matter of law that plaintiff did not voluntarily withdraw from the Firm. Rather, the circuit court concluded that defendants had improperly terminated plaintiff's ownership interest without authority. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the part of the Court of Appeals’ opinion regarding the motion to compel arbitration and instead held that this case was subject to binding arbitration under the arbitration clause of the Operating Agreement. Accordingly, the lower courts should not have reached the merits of plaintiff’s motion for partial summary disposition, as the motion addressed substantive contractual matters that should have been resolved by the arbitrator. The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Altobelli v. Hartmann" on Justia Law
Wyandotte Electric Supply Co. v. Electrical Technology Systems, Inc.
In 2009 and 2010, the south wing of the Detroit Public Library was renovated. Defendant KEO & Associates, Inc. (KEO) was the principal contractor for this project. Defendant Westfield Insurance Company supplied KEO with a payment bond worth $1.3 million, as required by the public works bond act (PWBA). KEO was identified as the principal contractor and Westfield as the surety on the bond. KEO subcontracted with defendant Electrical Technology Systems, Inc. (ETS) to provide labor and materials for electrical work. The agreement between KEO and ETS included a pay-if-paid clause, obliging KEO to pay ETS only after KEO had been paid for the relevant portion of work performed. ETS in turn subcontracted with Wyandotte Electric Supply Company for materials and supplies, making Wyandotte a sub-subcontractor from KEO’s perspective. ETS and Wyandotte first formed a relationship in 2003, when they entered into an “open account” agreement that governed ETS’s purchases from Wyandotte. Over the course of the project, ETS paid Wyandotte only sporadically and the unpaid balance grew. Initially, Wyandotte supplied materials on credit and credited ETS’s payments to the oldest outstanding balance, but eventually Wyandotte began to ship materials only for cash on delivery. Wyandotte sent certified letters to KEO and Westfield asking for a copy of the payment bond related to the library renovation project. The letter, on Wyandotte’s letterhead, referred to the “Detroit Public Library South Wing with [ETS.]” According to Wyandotte, KEO provided a copy of the payment bond the next day. Wyandotte also sent KEO a 30-day “Notice of Furnishing” in accordance with MCL 129.207, explaining that it was one of ETS’s suppliers. Wyandotte also sent copies of the letter to Westfield, the library, and ETS. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's revie centered on whether actual notice was required for a sub-subcontractor to recover on a payment bond when that sub-subcontractor complied with the notice requirements set forth in MCL 129.207. Furthermore, this case raised the question of whether a PWBA claimant could recover a time-price differential and attorney fees that were provided for by the claimant’s contract with a subcontractor, but were unknown to the principal contractor holding the payment bond as well as the principal’s surety. The Supreme Court concluded that the PWBA contained no actual notice requirement for claimants that comply with the statute, that the trial court properly awarded a time-price differential and attorney fees on past-due invoices to Wyandotte, and that the trial court erred in awarding postjudgment interest under MCL 600.6013(7). Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals with regard to the first two issues and reversed with regard to the third. View "Wyandotte Electric Supply Co. v. Electrical Technology Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
Bank of America, NA v. First American Title Ins. Co.
Plaintiff Bank of America brought an action against First American Title Insurance Company, Westminster Abstract Company, and others, alleging breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation in connection with mortgages that plaintiff had partially financed on four properties whose value had been fraudulently inflated and whose purchasers were straw buyers who had been paid for their participation. Shortly after closing, all four borrowers defaulted. After discovering the underlying fraud in the four loans during the foreclosure proceedings, plaintiff sued, among others, First American, which had issued closing protection letters that promised to reimburse plaintiff for actual losses incurred in connection with the closings if the losses arose from fraud or dishonesty, and Westminster, alleging that it had violated the terms of the closing instructions. The other defendants either defaulted or were dismissed. The Court of Appeals held that plaintiff’s claim against First American relating to the properties on which it had made full credit bids was barred by "New Freedom Mtg Corp v Globe Mtg Corp," (281 Mich App 63 (2008)). With respect to First American’s liability on the other two closings, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court properly granted summary disposition to First American and Westminster because plaintiff had failed to produce evidence that created a question of fact regarding whether Westminster knew of or participated in the underlying fraud in those closings. Finally, the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiff had not established a link between Westminster’s alleged violations of the closing instructions and the claimed damages and, even if a link had been established, there were no damages because of plaintiff’s full credit bid at the foreclosure sale. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that plaintiff’s full credit bids barred its contract claims against the nonborrower third-party defendants. To the extent that New Freedom held that the full credit bid rule barred contract claims brought by a mortgagee against nonborrower third parties, it was overruled. Further, the closing instructions agreed to by plaintiff and Westminster constituted a contract upon which a breach of contract claim could be brought. Finally, the lower courts erred by relying on New Freedom to interpret the credit protection letters given that the terms of the letters in New Freedom differed materially from the ones at issue here. View "Bank of America, NA v. First American Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Beck v. Park West Galleries, Inc.
Brian Beck, Audrey Mahoney, David and Felice Oppenheim, Patty Brown, and others brought an action in the Oakland Circuit Court against Park West Galleries, Inc., and others, alleging, inter alia, breach of contract and fraud. Defendant Park West Galleries, Inc. (Park West) sold art on various cruise ships traversing international waters. Plaintiffs purchased art from Park West on multiple occasions over the course of several years while on different cruise ships in different locations. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court's review centered on whether an arbitration clause included in invoices for plaintiffs’ artwork purchases applied to disputes arising from plaintiffs’ previous artwork purchases when the invoices for the previous purchases did not refer to arbitration. The Court agreed with plaintiffs that the arbitration clause contained in the later invoices could not be applied to disputes arising from prior sales with invoices that did not contain the clause. Each transaction involved a separate and distinct contract, and the facts did not reasonably support a conclusion that the parties intended for the arbitration clause to retroactively apply to the previous contracts. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed that part of the Court of Appeals judgment that extended the arbitration clause to the parties’ prior transactions that did not refer to arbitration. The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the issues raised in plaintiffs’ appeal that the Court did not address to the extent those issues relate to claims that are not subject to arbitration. In all other respects, leave to appeal was denied because the Court was not persuaded that it needed to review the remaining questions presented. View "Beck v. Park West Galleries, Inc." on Justia Law
Madugula v. Taub
Defendant Benjamin Taub founded Dataspace, Incorporated, in 1994. In 2002, Taub hired plaintiff Rama Madugula as vice president of sales and business development for Dataspace. Around this time, Dataspace also hired an individual named Andrew Flower. Taub was Dataspace's sole shareholder until 2004, when Madugula and Flower became part owners, with Madugula purchasing 29% of the outstanding shares and Flower purchasing 20%. Pursuant to a stockholders agreement, Taub became president, secretary, and treasurer of Dataspace, while Madugula and Flower became vice presidents. After becoming a shareholder, Madugula continued to work for Dataspace. In 2007, Flower exercised his right under the buy-sell agreement and voluntarily withdrew from Dataspace. Taub and Madugula purchased Flower's shares, increasing Madugula's interest to about 36% of the shares. Around this time, with Dataspace allegedly struggling, Taub switched the focus of Dataspace to marketing a new product that it developed called JPAS, a software platform. At the time, Madugula did not object to the new focus. In August 2007, Taub terminated Madugula's employment with Dataspace. Because of his termination, Madugula no longer received a salary from Dataspace, but he maintained his board position and his interest in the company. Madugula sued Taub and Dataspace, asserting: (1) shareholder; (2) breach of the duty of good faith; (3) common-law fraud and misrepresentation; (4) exemplary damages; (5) an appointment of a receiver; and (6) an accounting of Dataspace. Madugula sought damages, the removal of Taub as a director of Dataspace, the appointment of a receiver to protect the value of his stock in Dataspace, an accounting of Dataspace, and all other relief that he was entitled to in equity or law. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Taub and Dataspace, dismissing all counts against them except Madugula's claim of shareholder oppression. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that the plaint language of Michigan's shareholder-oppression statute, did not afford a claimant a right to a jury trial and, instead, expressed a legislative intent to have shareholder-oppression claims heard by a court of equity. Furthermore, the Court held that violations of a shareholder agreement may constitute evidence of shareholder oppression pursuant to the statute. Because the trial court erred by submitting plaintiff's claim to the jury and allowing it to award an equitable remedy, the Court of Appeals erred by affirming the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiff. View "Madugula v. Taub" on Justia Law
Estate of Eugene Hunt v. Drielick
This appeal involved Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company's obligations under an "Insurance for Non-Trucking Use" policy issued to Drielick Trucking. The policy contained a business-use exclusion, which included two clauses that Empire argued precluded coverage in this case. The Court of Appeals agreed that the first clause precluded coverage when the covered vehicle was not carrying property at the time of the accident, was in this case. Thus, the Court of Appeals expressly declined to address the second clause relating to leased covered vehicles. The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of the first clause. The case to the trial court for further fact-finding to determine whether Drielick Trucking and Great Lakes Carriers Corporation (GLC) entered into a leasing agreement for the use of Drielick Trucking’s semi-tractors as was contemplated under the policy's clause related to a leased covered vehicle. View "Estate of Eugene Hunt v. Drielick" on Justia Law
LaFontaine Saline, Inc. v. Chrysler Group, LLC
Chrysler Group, LLC and plaintiff LaFontaine Saline Inc. (LaFontaine), an authorized Chrysler automobile dealer, entered into a Dealer Agreement in 2007, granting LaFontaine the non-exclusive right to sell Dodge vehicles from its location in Saline, Michigan, and defined LaFontaine’s Sales Locality as "the area designated in writing to [LaFontaine] by [Chrysler] from time to time as the territory of [LaFontaine’s] responsibility for the sale of [Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge] vehicles, vehicle parts and accessories . . . ." This case centered on whether the 2010 amendment of the Motor Vehicle Dealer Act (MVDA) (expanding the relevant market area) from a six-mile radius to a nine-mile radius, applied retroactively. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that it did not. The Court therefore vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the Circuit Court for reinstatement of summary judgment in favor of Chrysler. View "LaFontaine Saline, Inc. v. Chrysler Group, LLC" on Justia Law