Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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In consolidated appeals, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under the terms of the “replacement cost coverage” policies at issue, the insurer was permitted to withhold from any actual cash value (“ACV”) payment general contractor’s overhead and profit (“GCOP”) expenses, unless and until the insureds undertook repairs of the damaged property, even though the services of a general contractor were reasonably likely to be needed to complete the repairs. Appellants Konrad Kurach and Mark Wintersteen (“Policyholders”) each purchased identical “Farmers Next Generation” insurance policies from Appellee Truck Insurance Company (“Insurer”), to cover their Pennsylvania residential dwellings. Subsequent to the purchase of these policies, both Policyholders sustained water damage to their houses in excess of $2,500, and both filed claims with Insurer under the policies. Thus, where, as here, the cost of repairing or replacing a policyholder’s damaged property exceeds $2,500, Insurer was first required to pay the ACV of the property at the time of the loss to the policyholder (“step one”). Once the repair or replacement of the damaged property is commenced, Insurer was then obligated (in “step two”) to pay the depreciated value of the damaged property and also the expense of hiring a general contractor, “unless the law of [Pennsylvania] requires” payment of GCOP as part of ACV. After careful review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court, which found the insurer was entitled to withhold such costs. View "Wintersteen v. Truck Ins. Exchange" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, a covenant not to compete was executed by an employee after the first day of employment. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the employer could enforce that provision in the post-employment timeframe although no new consideration was supplied in connection with its execution. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly denied a motion for a preliminary injunction: there was no evidence suggesting that, as of the commencement of the employment relationship, there was a meeting of the minds as to the noncompete agreement (NCA), or that the employee otherwise manifested his assent to provisions of the NCA that he was given, or an intent to be bound by them. View "Rullex Co., LLC. v. Tel-Stream, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 1997, Suffolk Construction Company entered into a contract with the University of Connecticut (“UConn”) for the construction of several buildings on UConn’s campus. UConn secured insurance policies from Reliance Insurance Company for the Project, naming Suffolk (and other contractors) as an insured. Suffolk completed the work in January 2001. The Reliance insurance policy was extended until January 2004. However, in late 2001, however, Reliance went into liquidation. In 2013 and 2014, UConn complained of defects in the construction that resulted in damage to its buildings. UConn initiated legal proceedings against Suffolk and other contractors. In 2016, Suffolk submitted a proof of claim to the Insurance Commissioner of Pennsylvania, as the statutory liquidator of Reliance. At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case involved the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court's interpretation of certain contract language using Connecticut law. The Commonwealth Court found that the language of the contract was clear and unambiguous, thus precluding consideration of extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intent. The Supreme Court determined, however, a Settlement Agreement between the parties could have been construed as nothing more than a mutual general release between UConn and Suffolk: "The ambiguity stems not from Suffolk’s 'subjective perception' of the terms of the Settlement Agreement, but from the terms of the agreement itself, as the language releasing claims for 'insurance coverage' and 'indemnification' does not have a single, clear meaning." As such, the Commonwealth Court erred by failing to consider extrinsic evidence, outside of the terms of the Settlement Agreement, to discern the parties’ intent. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the Commonwealth Court decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Suffolk Constr. v. Reliance Ins." on Justia Law

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TSG Real Estate, LLC (“TSG”) was a real estate company that owned a commercial property in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (the “Property”). Initially, TSG hired New Hart Corporation d/b/a Hart Corporation (“Hart”) as its broker to market the Property. As TSG’s agreement with Hart was to expire, TSG began considering replacement brokers, one of which was Binswanger of Pennsylvania, Inc. (“Binswanger”). Two days before TSG informed Binswanger of its decision to hire it as its broker, TSG received a written offer from TWA Holdings, LLC (“TWA”) to purchase the Property for $3.7 million. TSG negotiated an agreement with Binswanger culminating in a September 27, 2013 “Exclusive Right To Sell Or Lease Agreement” (“Broker Agreement”) with Binswanger. The Broker Agreement permitted TSG to continue using other brokers in connection with any sale to TWA, and provided, inter alia, (1) if Binswanger sold the Property, it would be entitled to a 5% commission; (2) all commissions would be considered to be earned and payable “at the time scheduled for closing on a sale;” (3) a “carve-out period” which allowed that if another broker “completed” a sale, exchange, or transfer of the Property to TWA on or before January 5, 2014, Binswanger would earn no commission; (4) if another broker completed a sale of the Property to TWA after January 5, 2014, the other broker and Binswanger would split a 5% commission; and (5) the duration of the agreement was for one year; however, TSG had the right to terminate the agreement after 6 months with 30 days prior written notice to Binswanger. Two days prior to the expiration of the carve-out period contained in the Broker Agreement, TSG, via Hart and another broker, Gelcor Realty (“Gelcor”), entered into an Agreement of Sale with TWA, selling the Property for $3.4 million. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the entitlement to broker commissions for the sale of commercial property. Applying the plain and unambiguous language of the Broker Agreement, the Supreme Court found the sale of the Property was completed at the time of closing, i.e., on April 24, 2014. As the sale was not completed on or before January 5, 2014, but only after the carve-out period had expired, Binswanger was entitled to a commission pursuant to the Broker Agreement fee schedule. View "Binswanger of PA Inc v. TSG Real Estate LLC." on Justia Law

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In 2008, Appellants, Gamesa Energy USA, LLC and Gamesa Technology Corporation, Inc. (Gamesa), entered into a commercial lease agreement (the Lease) to rent 35,000 square feet of office space in Philadelphia (the Premises) from Appellees, Ten Penn Center Associates, L.P. and SAP V Ten Penn Center NF G.P. L.L.C. (collectively Ten Penn Center). In May 2011, following Gamesa’s submission of the information required under Article 20.2 of the Lease, Ten Penn Center approved a request to sublease approximately 15,000 square feet, or forty percent of the Premises, to Viridity Energy, Inc. (Viridity) through August of 2018. In April 2012, Gamesa informed Ten Penn Center it would be moving out of the Premises as part of a corporate consolidation, and would continue to pay its monthly rent and attempt to find a sub-lessee for the open space. Viridity remained in the Premises under the terms of its sublease with Gamesa. Gamesa was twice late with the rent after it moved out, but still paid amounts due. In 2012, Gamesa submitted a request to Ten Penn Center for consent to sublease 5,200 square feet of the Premises to Business Services International, LLC (BSI), a business entity comprised of two foreign corporations formed for the particular purpose of subleasing office space through Gamesa. Ten Penn Center responded on June 26th, informing Gamesa it was in default of the Lease for vacating the Premises and, as a result, Ten Penn Center had no obligation to entertain the request to sublease. Ten Penn Center proposed it would grant consent to the BSI sublease if Gamesa forfeited its remaining tenant improvement allowance. Thereafter, negotiations between the parties stalled, and the proposed sublease with BSI never materialized. In 2013, Gamesa filed a complaint against Ten Penn Center, asserting claims of breach of contract, tortious interference in business relationships, and unjust enrichment. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review of this commercial landlord and tenant dispute to determine whether the Superior Court erred in holding the tenant was limited to damages for breach of contract and could not also recover the rent it paid following the landlord’s breach, despite prevailing on its claims for both remedies at trial. After careful review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Gamesa Energy USA, Aplt. v. Ten Penn Center, et al" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding whether an increase to the limits of underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage for multiple vehicles that are insured under an existing policy constitutes a “purchase” for purposes of Subsection 1738(c) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Michelle Barnard purchased a personal automobile policy from Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company (“Travelers”) to insure her two vehicles. As part of this policy, Barnard purchased UIM coverage in the amount of $50,000 per vehicle. Barnard waived stacking of her UIM coverage limits. Two years later, Barnard increased the UIM coverage limit on each of her vehicles to $100,000. Barnard did not execute a new stacking waiver at that time. Then several more years later, Barnard was involved in a motor vehicle accident with an underinsured motorist. When Barnard sought UIM benefits from Travelers, Travelers offered her $100,000 based upon the UIM coverage limit on one of her vehicles. Barnard filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking $200,000 in stacked UIM benefits. Travelers removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Based upon the plain language of Subsection 1738(c), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court answered the Third Circuit's question in the affirmative: therefore, an increase of UIM coverage under circumstances as was presented here triggered an insurance company’s statutory obligation to offer an insured the opportunity to waive stacking of the new, aggregate amount of UIM coverage. View "Barnard v. Travelers Home, et al" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Rachel Dixon was driving a car owned by her boyfriend, Rene Oriental-Guillermo (“Policyholder”), when she was involved in an accident with a vehicle in which Priscila Jimenez was a passenger, and which was owned by Iris Velazquez, and operated by Alli Licona-Avila. At the time of the accident, Dixon resided with Policyholder, who had purchased a personal automobile insurance policy (“Policy”) for his vehicle through Safe Auto Insurance Company (“Safe Auto”). The Policy contained an unlisted resident driver exclusion (“URDE”), which excluded from coverage any individuals who lived with, but were not related to, the policyholder, and whom the policyholder did not specifically list as an additional driver on the insurance policy. Jimenez and her husband Luis (collectively, “Appellants”) filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dixon, Policyholder, and Licona-Avila. On May 13, 2015, Safe Auto filed a complaint against Dixon, Policyholder, and Appellants, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the enforceability of the URDE with respect to Dixon. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Safe Auto, finding the URDE unambiguous, valid, and enforceable, and concluding that Safe Auto had no duty under the Policy to defend or indemnify Dixon in the underlying personal injury lawsuit. Appellants timely appealed to the Superior Court, arguing: (1) the trial court erred in holding the URDE was valid and enforceable; (2) that the URDE violated the provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”); and (3) that the URDE violated public policy. The Superior Court affirmed the order of the trial court in a divided, published opinion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concurred the URDE at issue in this case was enforceable, and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Safe Auto v. Oriental-Guillermo" on Justia Law

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At the times relevant to this litigation, the appellants, Baer Buick GMC and Grata Chevrolet (“Dealers”), and the appellee, General Motors, LLC, were parties to dealer sales and service agreements, per which Dealers sold and serviced vehicles manufactured by General Motors. Under the contractual terms, Dealers committed to performing repairs required by limited warranties extended by General Motors upon sales with no additional charge to customers (albeit that the projected cost of such repairs was factored into the purchase price for new vehicles). General Motors was then required to reimburse Dealers in accordance with a Service Policies and Procedures Manual (the “SPPM”). Through the SPPM, General Motors agreed to pay dealers at large for labor during warranty work under either of two options, denominated “Option A (Retail Rate) and Option C (CPI-based).” Option C, apparently, was the preferred option among dealers for labor reimbursement. General Motors’ standard reimbursement policy for parts installed in connection with warranty repairs was to pay one hundred and forty percent of the dealers’ costs. Apparently, both labor reimbursement alternatives, Options A and C, were initially made available to all dealers regardless of whether they sought reimbursement for parts under the standard contractual methodology or invoked an alternative rate, presumably under a governing regulatory statute. In 2012, however, General Motors instituted a policy effectively rendering any dealer pursuing an alternative reimbursement methodology for calculating warranty parts reimbursement ineligible for contractually-based Option C reimbursement for labor. Dealers, along with several other franchise dealers, lodged a protest with the State Board of Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers and Salespersons (the “Board”), claiming that General Motors violated Section 9(a)(3) of the Board of Vehicles Act by contractually changing the manner in which it reimbursed dealers for warranty labor, when Dealers had merely exercised their statutory rights concerning reimbursement for warranty parts. They also challenged General Motors’ ability to impose a surcharge on dealers that elect the statutory retail reimbursement rate for warranty parts but not labor. In response, General Motors contended that nothing in the Act guaranteed dealers the right to participate in Option C, which was purely a matter of contract. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court as it related to Section 9(a), and reversed as concerned Section 9(b.4)(1)(i). View "General Motors, LLC v. St Brd/Vehicle Manufacturer" on Justia Law

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This case arose due to the failure of a New Jersey couple to pay for their adult son’s stay at a Pennsylvania nonprofit residential facility. It primarily raised a choice-of-law issue in relation to the two states’ filial-support statutes. Alexander Schutt (“Alex”), born in 1986, had severe mental and physical disabilities, including autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Alex's parents lived in New Jersey. In 2001, Alex was placed at Melmark, a non-profit residential care facility for intellectually and physically disabled persons, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Once Alex turned 21, the Princeton Regional School District stopped paying for his care at Melmark; at that point, payment for his care shifted to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities (NJ-DDD). In July 2011, NJ-DDD informed the Parents Alex would have to be relocated because the agency disapproved Melmark’s rates. NJ-DDD stated that the Parents, as guardians, should pick Alex up at Melmark and NJ-DDD would provide him with an emergency placement pursuant to New Jersey law. Parents did not retrieve Alex from Melmark. In December 2011, NJ-DDD wrote to Parents, stating it would fund Alex’s residence on a permanent basis at an identified facility in New Jersey beginning in January 2012. Unsatisfied, the Parents asked NJ-DDD instead to continue paying for Alex’s care at Melmark. NJ-DDD denied the request and advised the Parents it would stop paying Melmark as of December 31, 2011. Parents filed an administrative appeal in New Jersey in an effort to keep Alex at Melmark. NJ-DDD granted extensions of time to allow for Alex’s transfer to a New Jersey facility, but the agency ultimately informed Parents it would make no further payments to Melmark after March 31, 2012. When that date arrived, neither Parents nor NJ-DDD accepted custody of Alex, leaving Melmark to care for him uncompensated. Nevertheless, Parents continued to pay for off-campus speech classes, art classes, and equestrian therapy for Alex, all of which took place in Pennsylvania. In addition, Parents continued to visit Alex at Melmark almost every weekend even after NJ-DDD’s payments ceased. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's resolution of the choice-of-law issue vitiated the trial court's basis for concluding the parents did not, in the individual capacity, appreciate Melmark's services. "[I]n weighing the equities, we conclude that it would be inequitable for Parents to retain the benefits they received from Melmark without paying for them. Thus, Melmark has established all three prerequisites for its equitable claims." As such, the Court held the Superior Court erred in finding the trial court properly denied relief on Melmark's equitable claims. View "Melmark, Inc. v. Schutt" on Justia Law

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This appeal required the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether a “household vehicle exclusion” contained in a motor vehicle insurance policy violated Section 1738 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), 75 Pa.C.S. 1738, because the exclusion impermissibly acted as a de facto waiver of stacked uninsured and underinsured motorist (“UM” and “UIM,” respectively) coverages. In 2012, Appellant Brian Gallagher was riding his motorcycle when William Stouffer ran a stop sign in his pickup truck, colliding with Gallagher’s motorcycle, causing Gallagher to suffer severe injuries. At the time of the accident, Gallagher had two insurance policies with GEICO; one included $50,000 of UIM coverage, insured only Gallagher’s motorcycle; the second insured Gallagher’s two automobiles and provided for $100,000 of UIM coverage for each vehicle. Gallagher opted and paid for stacked UM and UIM coverage when purchasing both policies. Stouffer’s insurance coverage was insufficient to compensate Gallagher in full. Consequently, Gallagher filed claims with GEICO seeking stacked UIM benefits under both of his GEICO policies. GEICO paid Gallagher the $50,000 policy limits of UIM coverage available under the Motorcycle Policy, it denied his claim for stacked UIM benefits under the Automobile Policy. GEICO based its decision on a household vehicle exclusion found in an amendment to the Automobile Policy. The exclusion states as follows: “This coverage does not apply to bodily injury while occupying or from being struck by a vehicle owned or leased by you or a relative that is not insured for Underinsured Motorists Coverage under this policy.” According to Gallagher, by denying him stacked UIM coverage based upon the household vehicle exclusion, GEICO was depriving him of the stacked UIM coverage for which he paid. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the household vehicle exclusion violated the MVFRL, and vacated the Superior Court’s judgment, reversed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of GEICO, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Gallagher v. GEICO" on Justia Law