Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court held that the economic loss doctrine applies when a fraud claim seeks recovery of only economic losses and is premised solely on nondisclosures or misrepresentations about the quality of goods that are the subject of a contract between sophisticated commercial parties.Plaintiff sued Defendants alleging breach of express and implied warranties, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and a Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) claim. The trial court granted Defendants summary judgment on the breach of contract, breach of warranty, and negligent misrepresentation claims. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff on the fraud and TCPA claims and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. The trial court entered judgment on the jury's verdicts and awarded Plaintiff attorney's fees. On appeal, the court of appeals ruled in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff, concluding that the economic loss doctrine barred the fraud claim and that the claim under the TCPA was barred as a matter of law. The Supreme Court set aside Plaintiff's award of attorney's fees and costs based on the TCPA and otherwise affirmed, holding that because Plaintiff's TCPA claim failed as a matter of law, the award of attorney's fees and costs under the TCPA could not stand. View "Milan Supply Chain Solutions, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's judgment dismissing Plaintiff's second lawsuit, holding that the doctrine of res judicata did not bar the lawsuit.Plaintiff originally filed suit against Defendant in the Circuit Court for Shelby County, but, unbeknownst to the parties, the trial court sua sponte dismissed the lawsuit for failure to prosecute. Ten months later, Plaintiff learned of the dismissal and filed a motion to set aside the dismissal. The trial court denied the motion but entered an order stating that the dismissal did not bar Plaintiff from refiling its lawsuit. When Plaintiff subsequently refiled its lawsuit, the trial court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss based on the doctrine of res judicata. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and vacated the judgment of the trial court, holding that the involuntary dismissal of the first suit for failure to prosecute did not operate as an adjudication on the merits, and therefore, the present lawsuit was not barred by the doctrine of res judicata. View "Regions Bank v. Prager" on Justia Law

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In this case involving the correct interpretation of provisions in the Prompt Pay Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 66-34-101 to -704, relating to retainage withheld on construction projects, the Supreme Court held that the $300 per day penalty is assessed each day retaining is not deposited in a statutorily-compliant escrow account.The Act requires the party withholding retain age to deposit the funds into a separate, interest-bearing escrow account, and failure to do so results in a $300 per day penalty. Here, Subcontractor's retainage was not placed into an interest-bearing escrow account, and the retainage was not timely remitted to Contractor. Three years after completing its contractual duties, Subcontractor sued Contractor for unpaid retainage plus amounts due under the Act. Thereafter, Contractor tendered the retainage. At issue was the statutory penalty. The trial court concluded that Subcontractor's claim under the Act was barred by Tenn. Code Ann.'s one-year statute of limitations. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that while Subcontractor's claim for the statutory penalty was subject to the one-year statute of limitations, if Subcontractor can establish that Contractor was required to deposit the retainage into an escrow account, Subcontractor was not precluded from recovering the penalty assessed each day during the period commencing one year before the complaint was filed. View "Snake Steel, Inc. v. Holladay Construction Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' action seeking a declaratory judgment concerning the rights and obligations of the parties under a 2001 contract, holding that the court of appeals erred in concluding that dismissal was appropriate on the grounds that the complaint was barred by the doctrine of res judicata.In a previously filed action, Plaintiffs sought similar relief, but the case was dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In the instant case, the trial court granted Defendants' motions to dismiss, finding that Plaintiffs lacked standing. The court of appeals affirmed on other grounds, concluding that res judicata barred the complaint and, as such, declined to address the standing issue. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that dismissal of the previous case did not constitute an adjudication on the merits for purposes of res judicata. The Court then remanded the case to the court of appeals for consideration of the standing issue. View "Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Memphis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the chancery court dismissing this complaint against a Texas company for lack of personal jurisdiction, holding that the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction was constitutionally permissible.The Texas company contracted with a Tennessee civil engineering company for services related to the potential construction of a railcar repair facility in Texas. When the Texas company failed to pay in full, the Tennessee company filed a breach of contract action in Tennessee. The chancery court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the Texas company lacked the minimum contacts necessary for the exercise of personal jurisdiction and that requiring the Texas company to litigate in Tennessee would be unreasonable and unfair. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Tennessee company established a prima facie case for the valid exercise of personal jurisdiction over the Texas company; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction was fair and reasonable. View "Crouch Railway Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court granting summary judgment to an architect firm seeking to recover its design fees from a development company, holding that disputed issued of material fact existed that precluded summary judgment.Plaintiff, the architect firm, designed a condominium project for Defendant, the development company. Defendant was not able to pay Plaintiff under the contract, and as a result, Plaintiff's project agreed to accept a condominium in the project instead of a fee. Defendant did not fulfill the agreement. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a mechanic's lien for its unpaid fee under the contract and filed suit to enforce the lien. The trial court granted summary judgment to Plaintiff, concluding that there was insufficient evidence that the parties intended a novation by substituting the agreement to convey a condominium for the contract. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that summary judgment was improperly granted because disputed questions of material fact existed about whether Plaintiff and Defendant intended a novation when they executed the agreement for the condominium. View "TWB Architects, Inc. v. Braxton, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case in which the district court certified a question of law to the Supreme Court regarding the interpretation of two insurance policies the Supreme Court answered that, under Tennessee law and based on the language in the policies at issue, the insurer, in making an actual cash value payment, may not withhold a portion of repair labor as depreciation.The policy defined actual cash value as "the cost to replace damaged property with new property of similar quality and features reduced by the amount of depreciation applicable to the damaged property immediately prior to the loss" and stated that "actual cash value includes a deduction for depreciation." The Supreme Court held (1) the language in the policies was ambiguous and must be construed in favor of the insured parties; and (2) therefore, labor may not be depreciated when the insurance company calculates the actual cash value of a property using the "replacement cost less depreciation" method. View "Lammert v. Auto-Owners (Mutual) Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court’s judgment granting a bank’s motion to dismiss this action brought by Plaintiff, holding that the allegations of the complaint were sufficient to survive the bank's motion to dismiss.Plaintiff was listed as a joint tenant with right of survivorship on the checking and savings accounts. Plaintiff brought this breach of contract action alleging that Defendant, the bank, removed his name from checking and savings accounts without his consent and breached its duty to him as co-owner of the account by accepting forged signature cards. The Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of Defendant’s motion to dismiss, holding (1) Plaintiffs sufficiently complied with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 10.03 by attaching the signature cards reflecting his status as a joint tenant with right of survivorship, which is the basis of his breach of contract claim; and (2) Plaintiff’s claims were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss because, under Tennessee law, a contractual relationship arises between a bank and joint tenants upon the creation of joint tenancy bank accounts and no statute affords banks protection from liability for removing a joint tenant’s name from an account without the joint tenant’s consent. View "Estate of Ella Mae Haire v. Webster" on Justia Law

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In this breach of contract case, the Supreme Court held that, in interpreting a fully integrated contract, extrinsic evidence may be used to put the written terms of the contract into context, but it may not be used to vary, contradict, or supplement the contractual terms in violation of the parol evidence rule.Plaintiff, an insurance agency, sold insurance policies for Defendant, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc. Defendant paid Plaintiff commissions on the sales, and the commission arrangement was governed by a general agency agreement. Plaintiff brought this lawsuit claiming that Defendant breached the agency agreement and owed Plaintiff substantial damages. The trial court awarded Plaintiff almost $2 million in damages for Defendant’s systemic commission underpayments. The court of appeals affirmed. At issue before the Supreme Court was the use of extrinsic evidence to interpret contracts. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded, holding (1) Defendant only breached the parties agreement by refusing to pay commissions to Plaintiff after their agreement was terminated; and (2) the alleged systemic commission underpayments were not inherently undiscoverable. View "Individual Healthcare Specialists, Inc. v. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and vacated the judgment of the trial court in this dispute over the enforceablility of exculpatory provisions of an agreement that released a medical transportation company from liability in transporting a patient to a doctor’s appointment, holding that the exculpatory language in the agreement did not, as a matter of law, bar the patient’s claim in this case.Before the patient was about to be transported, the medical transportation company’s driver required the patient to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability. After the appointment, the patient fell as he was getting into the company’s van. The patient sued the company, and the company filed a motion to dismiss based on the exculpatory provisions of the agreement. The lower courts held that the exculpatory provisions were enforceable and barred the patient’s claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) in determining the enforceability of an exculpatory agreement, a court should consider the totality of the circumstances and weigh three non-exclusive factors; (2) as a matter of law, the exculpatory provisions in the agreement at issue were unenforceable and did not bar the patient’s claim against the company. View "Copeland v. Healthsouth/Methodist Rehabilitation Hospital, LP" on Justia Law