Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Minnesota Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court determining that the district court, and not the arbitrator, was to decide whether the parties' dispute was subject to arbitration, holding that the district court correctly concluded that the parties' dispute was not subject to arbitration.Glacier Park Iron Ore Properties, LLC alleged that United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) aided and abetted a breach of the fiduciary duty of Great Northern Iron Ore Properties Trust and sought recession of a lease that U.S. Steel signed with the Trust. Glacier Park filed a motion to stay proceedings pending arbitration and to compel the parties to engage in arbitration. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the court, not arbitrators, should decide the meaning of the arbitration clause at issue in this case and, thus, the arbitrability of the dispute. The district court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because there was not clear and unmistakable evidence that the parties intended to delegate arbitrability to the arbitrator, whether the parties' breach of fiduciary claim was arbitrable was a question for the court. View "Glacier Park Iron Ore Properties, LLC, v. United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

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In this insurance dispute, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the district court's determination that the insurance policy at issue covered all of the claimed property damage and that a Miller-Shugart settlement agreement was reasonable and unenforceable against Insurer, holding that the policy did not cover all of the claimed property damage.The court of appeals concluded that the settlement agreement was "unreasonable as a matter of law and unenforceable" against the insurer because the agreement failed to allocate between covered and uncovered claims. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the policies in this case covered some, but not all, of the property damage claimed by the insured; and (2) determining the reasonableness of an unallocated Miller-Shugart settlement agreement involves a two-step inquiry set forth in this opinion. View "King's Cove Marina, LLC v. Lambert Commercial Construction LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting the City of Plainview's motion to dismiss Donald Hall's contract and statutory claims, holding that the City had a contractual obligation to pay accrued paid time off (PTO) to Hall.After the City terminated Hall's employment as manager of the City's municipal liquor store it refused to pay Hall accrued PTO due to Hall's failure to provide sufficient notice per the requirements of the City's personnel policies and procedures manual. Hall sued the City for breach of contract and violation of Minn. Stat. 181.13. The district court dismissed Hall's contract and statutory claims. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding (1) disclaimer provisions in the City's employee handbook stating that the handbook's policies should not be construed as a contract did not unambiguously allow the City to refuse to pay accrued PTO in accordance with the employer policy set forth in the handbook; and (2) Minn. Stat. 181.13(a) does not create an independent substantive right to payment of accrued PTO in the absence of a contract between the employer and employee. View "Hall v. City of Plainview" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court that Appellant could not enforce the contract between Appellant and Respondent whereby Appellant purchased an interest in Respondent's personal injury suit because it violated Minnesota's common law prohibition against champerty, holding that Minnesota's common-law prohibition against champerty is abolished.When Respondent settled her suit and did not abide by the terms of the contract, Appellant sued to enforce the contract. Both the district court and the court of Appeals held that Appellant could not enforce the agreement against Respondent because Minnesota law applied to the agreement and the agreement violated Minnesota's common-law prohibition against champerty. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the contract was champertous the lower courts did not err in determining that, under prior decisions, the contract was unenforceable; but (2) changes in the legal profession and in society show that the ancient prohibition against champerty is no longer necessary. View "Maslowski v. Prospect Funding Partners LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court that concluded that a fee agreement between the parties was not void and thus ordering arbitration, holding that the district court erred by directing entry of final judgment rather than staying the proceedings, and therefore, there was no proper final judgment from which to take an appeal.Plaintiffs sued Defendants after learning that Defendants had provided brokerage services to Plaintiffs without the requisite state license. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that the fee agreement obligating Defendants to pay for the services provided was void as against public policy. Defendants, in turn, moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of the fee agreement and to dismiss or to stay the underlying proceedings. The district court ordered arbitration and dismissed the case, concluding that the fee agreement was not void. The court of appeals reversed, determining that the fee agreement was void. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ decision, holding that the district court erred by dismissing the case instead of staying proceedings and that the court of appeals erred when it concluded that it had jurisdiction over the merits of this case. View "Woischke v. Stursberg & Fine, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was whether a former employee’s (Employee) delay in returning his employer’s (Employer) property excused Employer from paying a commission otherwise due to Employee.The district court concluded that a return-of-property clause in the parties’ employment contract was a condition precedent to Employer’s contractual obligation to pay the residual commission, and therefore, Employer was excused from its obligation to pay that commission. The court of appeals applied Restatement (Second) of Contracts 229 and reversed, determining that a loss of the commission would cause a “disproportionate forfeiture." Therefore, the court held that Employee’s failure immediately to return Employer’s property was excused as a matter of law.The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) because section 229 reflects this Court’s reluctance to enforce forfeitures, the court of appeals properly looked to it for guidance in resolving this case; but (2) on this record, the materiality and proportionality analysis contemplated by section 229 should not be resolved as a matter of law on appeal, and therefore, a remand is necessary. View "Capistrant v. Lifetouch National School Studios, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a complaint seeking an injunction for breach of contract, the district court was not required to find irreparable harm based solely on the language of a private agreement and did not abuse its discretion by declining to grant an injunction in light of the absence of evidence of irreparable harm.St. Jude Medical sued Heath Carter and Boston Scientific Corporation after Carter left his job at St. Jude to work for Boston Scientific, alleging that Carter had violated his employment agreement with St. Jude. The agreement stated that if Carter breached its terms, St. Judge would suffer irreparable injury, and St. Jude would be entitled to an injunction against Carter and his new employer because St. Jude’s remedy at law for damages would be inadequate. The district court concluded that St. Jude was not entitled to an injunction because, although Carter breached the agreement, St. Jude failed to demonstrate that it would suffer irreparable harm from that breach. The court of appeals reversed, ruling that the district court erred by failing to consider the terms of the agreement when deciding whether to enjoin Carter. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court was not required to exercise its equitable authority simply by reason of the contract language. View "St. Jude Medical, Inc. v. Carter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court has applied the rule of contra proferentem - “a doctrine that ambiguities in a contract are to be construed unfavorably against the drafter” - only after an attempt is made to determine the parties’ intent behind an ambiguous term, and only if a preponderance of the evidence does not prove the parties’ intent should the jury construe ambiguous terms against the drafter.In this breach of contract case, the district court instructed the jury to determine whether two contracts were ambiguous and, if so, to both determine the intent of the parties and construe ambiguous terms against the drafter. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial, determining that the canon of contra proferentem was to be applied only after the evidence failed to reveal the mutual intent of the parties. The Supreme Court held that the jury instruction in this case materially misstated the law twice by directing the jury to (1) determine whether the contracts at issue were ambiguous, rather than instructing the jury that the contracts were ambiguous; and (2) both determine the intent of the parties and construe ambiguous terms against the drafter without specifying which task must be completed first. View "Staffing Specifix, Inc. v. TempWorks Management Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was the proper method for calculating the quantum meruit value of an attorney’s services when a client terminates the contingent-fee agreement before a matter concludes.Respondent retained Appellant-law firm under a contingent-fee agreement to assist with asbestos litigation. Two months before settling a claim upon which Appellant had worked for about ten years, Respondent discharged Appellant. The district court dismissed Appellant’s attempt to recover a portion of the settlement funds, concluding that Appellant failed to prove the value of the services that it had provided. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the district court applied the incorrect test for determining quantum meruit. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) district courts should use eight factors to determine the quantum meruit value of a discharged contingent-fee attorney’s services; and (2) a remand was necessary so that the district court may consider the contingent-fee argument between the parties, in addition to the other relevant factors identified herein. View "Faricy Law Firm, P.A. v. API, Inc. Asbestos Settlement Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the district court concluding that a grain-handling contract between the parties in this case that was to “continue indefinitely” was perpetual in duration, not indefinite, and therefore not terminable at will.Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, LLLP (CVEC) sought to end its contract with Glacial Plains Cooperative on the ground that it was a contract of indefinite duration, terminable at will be either party. The district court ruled in favor of Glacial Plains, finding that CVEC had wrongfully terminated the grain-handling contract. The court of appeals affirmed, ruling that the intent of the parties should prevail over the general rule that contract without definite duration are terminable at will upon reasonable notice. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings, holding (1) the parties’ contract was one of indefinite duration and was therefore terminable at will by either party upon reasonable notice after a reasonable time as passed; and (2) it is for the district court to weigh the evidence and apply the law to determine whether a reasonable time has passed such that the contract may be terminated at will with reasonable notice. View "Glacial Plains Cooperative v. Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co." on Justia Law