Articles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Crockett’s former law firm subscribed to a LexisNexis legal research plan that allowed unlimited access to certain databases for a flat fee. Subscribers could access other databases for an additional fee. According to Crockett, LexisNexis indicated that a warning sign would display before a subscriber used a database outside the plan. Years after subscribing, Crockett complained that his firm was being charged additional fees without any warning that it was using a database outside the Plan. LexisNexis insisted on payment of the additional fees. The firm dissolved. Crockett’s new firm entered into a LexisNexis subscription agreement, materially identical to the earlier plan; it contains an arbitration clause. Crockett filed an arbitration demand against LexisNexis on behalf of two putative classes. One class comprised law firms that were charged additional fees. The other comprised clients onto whom such fees were passed. The demand sought damages of more than $500 million. LexisNexis sought a federal court declaration that the agreement did not authorize class arbitration. The district court granted LexisNexis summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. “The idea that the arbitration agreement … reflects the intent of anyone but LexisNexis is the purest legal fiction,” but the one-sided adhesive nature of the clause and the absence of a class-action right do not render it unenforceable. The court observed that Westlaw’s contract lacks any arbitration clause. View "Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Crockett" on Justia Law

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After Page and SNAP sued Owl for breach of contract, Owl counterclaimed for breach of the same contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Owl on all claims and the counterclaim. Owl elected not to pursue damages on its counterclaim at that time. The court dismissed with a condition that if any aspect of the rulings are reversed or modified, by any appellate court, Owl can reassert the counterclaim following remand. The plaintiffs agreed not to assert any defense based on the passage of time.” The parties appealed. The Seventh Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, finding that the conditional dismissal did not create a final order under 28 U.S.C. 1291. An appellate court must be able to determine at the time of appeal whether a final, litigation-ending decision has been entered. View "Page Plus of Atlanta, Inc. v. Owl Wireless, LLC" on Justia Law

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YA, a nonprofit corporation serving at-risk youth, transported young people to an event using vans that it owned. After the event four people were unable to board because a van was full. A YA employee requested that 16-year-old Lee, a YA participant who had driven to the event in a separate vehicle, drive them home. Lee agreed. Lee did not possess a valid driver’s license and the car that he was driving had been stolen during a carjacking. Police saw Lee driving erratically, ran a license plate check, and gave chase. Lee lost control and hit a tree. Lee survived, but all four passengers were killed. Their estates filed suit. YA requested defense and indemnification under policies issued by Indemnity: a commercial general liability policy with a $1 million limit and a commercial excess liability policy with a $2 million limit. Indemnity provided a defense, but disputed coverage and sought a federal declaratory judgment. YA counterclaimed that Indemnity breached its duty of good faith and violated the Kentucky Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act, by misrepresenting coverage and failing to affirm liability within a reasonable time. The district court held that Indemnity was obligated under the CGL policy but not under the excess policy. The state court action settled with Indemnity’s payment of the $1 million limit of the CGL policy, plus $800,000 of the excess policy. The federal court dismissed the bad-faith counterclaims, reasoning that, as a matter of law, Indemnity’s coverage position had not been taken in bad faith. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Philadelphia Indem. Ins. Co. v. Youth Alive, Inc." on Justia Law

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The 19th-century steamship S.S. Central America, the “Ship of Gold,” sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 1857, taking many tons of gold with her. The wreckage was discovered more than 130 years later by explorers led by Thompson, in one of the most significant finds in maritime history. Thompson is a fugitive from the law. Those who assisted Thompson in locating the wreckage signed non-disclosure agreements in exchange for a percentage of the net recovery, but none have received payment. In their suit, Thompson’s business entities asserted a two-year statute of limitations for actions in salvage and three counterclaims. The district court rejected the time-bar argument and granted summary judgment against all counterclaims. While an interlocutory appeal was pending, the district court granted prejudgment attachment and an injunction against one of the entities and Thompson, forbidding them from divesting certain assets. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the time bar does not apply, affirmed summary judgment against the counterclaims for failure to raise an issue of fact material to the disposition of the case, and upheld the injunction. View "Williamson v. Recovery Ltd. P'ship" on Justia Law

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Bennett was walking her dog in Garfield Heights, Ohio when she was struck on the left knee by a vehicle driven by Pastel. The accident threw Bennett onto the car’s hood. Bennett sued Pastel’s insurer, State Farm, which characterized as “ridiculous” her assertion that she was an “occupant” of the car, as that term is defined by State Farm’s policy, at the time she was on the vehicle’s hood. The district court granted summary judgment to State Farm. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The policy defines “occupying” as “in, on, entering or alighting from.” The court stated that “we have no reason to explore Bennett’s relationship with the car… the policy marks out its zone of coverage in primary colors.” View "Bennett v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins." on Justia Law

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Satyam approached the Trust about forming a joint venture to provide engineering services to the automotive industry. Satyam represented that it was an IT-services provider with a base of automotive customers, that it was publicly-traded, audited, and financially stable. The Trust formed VGE, a separate legal entity; in 2000, VGE and Satyam formed SVES under the laws of India; VGE contributed $735,000. VGE and Satyam signed agreements calling for binding arbitration. In 2005, Satyam initiated arbitration. VGE counterclaimed that Satyam had breached its obligations. The arbitrator rejected VGE’s counterclaims, found that Satyam never competed with SVES, and found an event of default entitling Satyam to purchase VGE’s shares in the joint venture for book value. Satyam filed an enforcement action. The district court ordered VGE to comply with the award. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Following a 2007 contempt proceeding, VGE complied. In 2010, VGE and the Trust sued, alleging that, starting before the joint venture, Satyam engaged in a massive fraud scheme about its financial stability, and claiming civil violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961–1968. The district court dismissed, based on res judicata defense, and denied leave to amend. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The complaint adequately alleged that Satyam wrongfully concealed the factual predicate to claims, so the defense of claim preclusion does not apply. View "Venture Global Eng'g, LLC v. Satyam Computer Servs., Ltd." on Justia Law

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GM provides its salaried retirees with continuing life insurance benefits under an ERISA-governed plan. MetLife issued the group life insurance policy and periodically sent letters to participants advising them of the status of their benefits. The plaintiffs, participants in the plan, allege that those letters falsely stated that their continuing life insurance benefits would remain in effect for their lives, without cost to them. GM reduced their continuing life insurance benefits as part of its 2009 Chapter 11 reorganization. The plaintiffs sued MetLife under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(2) & (a)(3) and state law. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. MetLife did not tell participants that the benefits were fully paid up or vested upon retirement, but that their benefits would be in effect for their lifetimes, which “was undeniably true under the terms of GM’s then-existing plan.” The court rejected claims of estoppel, of breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, breach of plan terms, and restitution. View "Merrill Haviland v. Metro. Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Aleris supplied aluminum to Behr under a requirements contract until a labor dispute forced Aleris to close its Quebec factory in 2008. After learning of the closure, Behr took delivery of aluminum worth $2.6 million from Aleris without paying for it and scrambled to obtain aluminum from other suppliers, which Behr says increased its costs by $1.5 million. Behr filed suit in Michigan state court. That suit was stayed in 2009 when Aleris’s parent company filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. Aleris filed for bankruptcy in Canada. Aleris sued Behr in federal court seeking recovery of $2.6 million for the aluminum delivery. Behr asserted numerous defenses and counterclaims including a setoff for its increased costs after the factory closure. The district court abstained from adjudication of Behr’s counterclaim, characterizing it as “part and parcel of the stayed state-court proceedings,” then granted summary judgment to Aleris in the amount of $1.1 million and closed the case. Behr satisfied the judgment. The state court declined to lift the stay. The Sixth Circuit reversed, stating that the decision gave Behr full value for its untested counterclaim and has the impact of depriving the Canadian estate of monies to which it might be entitled. View "RSM Richter, Inc. v. Behr America, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 1997, Crum, a small company near insolvency, agreed to service Martin’s light-duty vehicles. Martin was a subsidiary of Massey Coal, a publicly-traded corporation. The agreement allowed Crum to enter Martin’s property to pick up vehicles; Martin required Crum to enter into an indemnification agreement and Crum agreed to Martin’s terms. Crum obtained insurance coverage required by the agreement from Universal. Philip, a Crum employee, rode with a Martin employee to pick up a truck from Martin property. A boulder rolled down hill, hit the vehicle, severely injuring Philip. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Martin for having loose rock above the roadway. Philip and Crum sued Martin; Martin counterclaimed based on the indemnification. Universal declined to defend on the counterclaim. After mediation, Martin agreed, without admitting liability, to pay $3,650,000. The parties also entered an “agreed judgment” against Crum for $3,650,000, on Martin’s counterclaim. Martin agreed not to pursue Crum for that judgment and sued Universal. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court that Universal had no duty to indemnify Martin because there was enough evidence to show that Crum was not actually liable to Martin. The indemnification was unenforceable as against public policy; it was the product of a significant disparity in bargaining power and attempted to shift liability for compliance with at least one mining-safety statute. View "Martin Cnty. Coal Corp. v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Authority was formed under Ga. Code 46-4-82(a) to provide member municipalities with natural gas. It operates as a non-profit, distributing profits and losses to member municipalities: 64 in Georgia, two in Tennessee, 12 in other states. It pays its own operating expenses and judgments; it is exempt from state laws on financing and investment for state entities and has discretion over accumulation, investment, and management of its funds. It sets its governance rules; members elect leaders from among member municipalities. Smyrna, Tennessee has obtained gas from the Authority since 2000, using a pipeline that does not run through Georgia. The Authority entered a multi-year “hedge” contract for gas acquisition, setting price and volume through 2014, and passed the costs on. The market price of natural gas then fell due to increased hydraulic fracturing (fracking), but Smyrna was still paying the higher price. Smyrna sued for breach of contract, violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment. The district court denied the Authority’s motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity under Georgia law and the Eleventh Amendment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that the Authority’s claim that any entity referred to as a state “instrumentality” in a Georgia statute is entitled to state-law sovereign immunity “requires quite a stretch of the imagination.” View "Town of Smyrna, TN v. Mun. Gas Auth. of GA" on Justia Law