Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Team Industrial Services v. Zurich American Insurance Company, et al.
Plaintiff Team Industrial Services, Inc. (Team) suffered a $222 million judgment against it in a wrongful-death lawsuit arising out of a steam-turbine failure in June 2018 at a Westar Energy, Inc. (Westar) power plant. Team sought liability coverage from Westar, Zurich American Insurance Company (Zurich), and two other insurance companies, arguing that it was, or should have been, provided protection by Westar’s Owner-Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP) through insurance policies issued by Zurich and the two other insurers. Team’s claims derived from the fact that its liability for the failure at the Westar power plant arose from work that had previously been performed by Furmanite America, Inc. (Furmanite), which had coverage under Westar’s OCIP. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, and Team appealed. Not persuaded by Team's arguments for reversal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Team Industrial Services v. Zurich American Insurance Company, et al." on Justia Law
Scott Fetzer Co. v. American Home Assurance Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals in this dispute arising out of environmental-cleanup and remediation work at two Superfund sites in Bronson, Michigan, holding that Restatement (Second) 193 does not govern the choice-of-law analysis for bad faith claims.Scott Fetzer Company filed this action asserting a breach of contract claim against certain insurance companies, including Travelers Casualty and Surety Company, alleging breaches of certain insurance contracts. Fetzer also asserted a tort claim against each company, arguing that they had acted in bad faith when handling his claims. As to Travelers, an administrative judge concluded that Ohio law applied to a discovery dispute concerning Scott Fetzer's bad faith claim. The court of appeals affirmed, determining that Ohio law governed the bad-faith discovery dispute because the cause of action was a tort. In affirming, the court applied the choice-of-law rules set forth in section 145 of the Restatement. Travelers appealed, arguing that section 193 governs the choice-of-law analysis for bad faith claims because they arise out of insurance contracts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly ruled that the choice-of-law analysis applicable to a bad-faith claim as provided by section 145. View "Scott Fetzer Co. v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law
Antero Resources v. Kawcak
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
John Doe v. Jane Doe
John Doe (“Appellant”) filed this civil action alleging claims for defamation, abuse of process, tortious interference with contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy against Jane Doe (“Appellee”) after Appellee accused Appellant of sexual assault. When Appellant filed his complaint, he also filed an ex parte motion to proceed using the pseudonym “John Doe” rather than his real name. The district court denied the motion. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that in considering the district court’s entire analysis of the James factors, it concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion because it did not rely on incorrect factual or legal premises, nor did it give any indication that it was acting by general rule. Instead, the district court conducted a thorough, case-specific analysis when it exercised its discretion. The court wrote that the district court considered each of Appellant’s arguments, and it carefully balanced Appellant’s stated interests against the public’s interest in the openness of judicial proceedings as required by Public Citizen. It did not abuse its discretion in doing so. View "John Doe v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law
Khan v. Yale Univ.
Plaintiff appealed from a partial final judgment of the district court dismissing his Connecticut state law claims for defamation and tortious interference with contract against Defendant, who accused Plaintiff of sexual assault in 2015 while the two were students at Yale University. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in finding (1) Defendant to enjoy absolute quasi-judicial immunity for statements made at the 2018 Yale disciplinary hearing that resulted in Plaintiff’s expulsion from the university and (2) Plaintiff’s tortious interference claims based on Defendant’s original 2015 accusations to be untimely. On preliminary review, the Second Circuit was unable to determine whether Connecticut would recognize the Yale disciplinary hearing at issue as a quasi-judicial proceeding supporting absolute immunity in this case. Accordingly, the court certified questions pertinent to that determination to the Connecticut Supreme Court. That court responded that absolute immunity does not apply in this case because Yale’s disciplinary hearing was not a quasi-judicial proceeding in that it lacked procedural safeguards associated with judicial proceedings. In response, The Second Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. The court explained that while the Connecticut Supreme Court recognized the possibility for participants in such a hearing to be shielded by qualified immunity, the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that Defendant is not presently entitled to dismissal on that ground because Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently pleads the malice necessary to defeat such immunity. With this guidance as to Connecticut law, the court concluded on this appeal that Plaintiff’s complaint should not have been dismissed against Defendant except as to his tortious interference claim based on 2015 statements, which is untimely. View "Khan v. Yale Univ." on Justia Law
Kenai Ironclad v. CP Marine Services
Kenai Ironclad Corporation (“Kenai” or “Plaintiff”) alleged that CP Marine Services, LLC, breached its contract to repair and convert Kenai’s offshore supply vessel to a salmon fishing tender for use in Alaska. After Kenai expressed dissatisfaction with the work, the relationship deteriorated. Kenai alleged that, after paying its final invoice, it attempted to remove its vessel from CP Marine’s shipyard, but as it did so, CP Marine and codefendant Ten Mile Exchange, LLC (“TME”) (collectively, “Defendants”) rammed, wrongfully seized, detained, and converted Kenai’s vessel for five days before finally releasing it the district court found that CP Marine did not breach its contract with Kenai but did wrongfully seize, detain, and convert the vessel. The district court awarded punitive damages and attorney’s fees for Defendants’ bad faith and reckless behavior in ramming, seizing, and converting the vessel for five days. Defendants appealed. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that Defendants wrongfully seized and converted Kenai’s vessel in bad faith and in a manner egregious enough to warrant an award of punitive damages. The court vacated the district court’s award of damages and remanded on the limited basis of clarifying the court’s award. The court found that Kenai presented sufficient evidence and testimony to support the district court’s finding that Defendants’ conduct was in bad faith, in callous disregard for the safety of the people aboard the vessels, and in reckless disregard of Kenai’s rights. Hence, the district court did not clearly err in finding facts sufficient to support an award of punitive damages. View "Kenai Ironclad v. CP Marine Services" on Justia Law
Elliott v. Cartagena, et al.
Plaintiff alleged that he co-created the song “All the Way Up,” but that he has not been properly credited or compensated for his contribution. He filed this action in the district court asserting claims under the Copyright Act, as well as various tort claims. Defendants maintain that Plaintiff assigned away any rights he may have had in the song, but the agreement has never been produced, and the parties disagree about its content and effect. The district court admitted a draft version of the missing agreement as a duplicate, and then granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment without allowing Plaintiff to conduct discovery. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded. The court held that the district court abused its discretion in finding the draft admissible as a duplicate original under Federal Rule of Evidence 1003, but properly admitted the draft as “other evidence of the content” of the original under Rule 1004. The court further held that the district court abused its discretion in denying Plaintiff’s request to conduct discovery prior to the entry of summary judgment and erred in concluding that no genuine dispute of material fact existed based on the current record. View "Elliott v. Cartagena, et al." on Justia Law
Hee Lowery, et al v. AmGuard Insurance Company
After Plaintiff sustained serious injuries from a hot-soup spill at Noodle College Park, an Atlanta-area restaurant, she and her spouse sued Shou & Shou, Inc., which owned and operated the restaurant. Shou & Shou tendered the defense to and sought coverage from AmGuard Insurance Company. But AmGuard denied coverage on the ground that the policy named “Noodle, Inc.”—an entity that did not exist—as insured. Shou & Shou settled the suit and assigned the Lowerys its rights under the policy. Plaintiffs, as assignees, then sued AmGuard for equitable reformation of the policy. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and later entered a final judgment. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that reformation of the policy was proper under Georgia law. The court explained that the district court correctly equitably reformed the 2016–17 policy to insure the true owner of the restaurant. The court explained that AmGuard insists that it could not have shared Shou & Shou’s mistake because it did not know the “identity” of the intended insured and could not have intended to “name” Shou & Shou as an insured. But Georgia law does not demand that degree of specificity in defining a mutual mistake. Further, the court held that Plaintiffs claim of breach of contract merges with reformation of the policy. View "Hee Lowery, et al v. AmGuard Insurance Company" on Justia Law
SXSW v. Federal Insurance
Plaintiff planned on hosting a music festival in Austin, Texas. However, Austin canceled the event due to concerns related to COVID-19. In turn, ticket holders who were refused a refund sued, resulting in a judgment against PLaintiff of over $1 million. Plaintiff sued its insurer for failure to defend against the class action. The district court denied Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granted the insurer's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed.On appeal. the parties agreed that the district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1) and Plaintiff claimed the Fifth Circuit had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1291.Exercising its independent judgment, the Fifth Circuit could not find proper allegations or evidence of Plaintiff's citizenship, giving the parties an opportunity to respond. However, the Fifth Circuit found the proffered evidence of Plaintiff's citizenship insufficient, remanding the case for the limited purpose of determining whether jurisdiction exists. View "SXSW v. Federal Insurance" on Justia Law
Christmann v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
After suffering personal injuries and property damage in a multi-car collision with an underinsured motorist, Kelly Lynn Christmann filed suit against her insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”). Christmann was seeking to obtain the underinsured motorist benefits provided under her contract of insurance, which she claimed State Farm failed to pay in an amount justly due under her policy. She also alleged that certain terms of her insurance agreement violate public policy. State Farm argued that Christmann waived her rights to additional benefits by failing to comply with the contractual obligations of her insurance policy, thereby prejudicing State Farm’s right to subrogation against the underinsured motorist. The district court awarded summary judgment to State Farm in determining it had been prejudiced by Christmann’s conduct and that the terms of the insurance policy were valid. The court also denied Christmann’s motion for reconsideration and her Rule 60(b) motion for relief. Christmann appealed. Because the record showed State Farm fully settled its claims against the underinsured motorist and waived its subrogation rights, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded it suffered no actual prejudice from Christmann’s actions. Accordingly, the judgment was reversed. View "Christmann v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law