Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
S. Fin. Grp. LLC v. McFarland State Bank
SFG, a Texas firm specializing in distressed‐asset investing, bought a loan portfolio from McFarland State Bank for $1.27 million (28.8% of the face value of the debt). Materials provided by McFarland’s agent indicated that the portfolio was secured by 19 real estate properties in Wisconsin. Both parties were well represented during negotiations. The Sale Agreement provided limited remedies in the event of a breach and disclaimed all other remedies. Soon after purchasing the portfolio, SFG learned that three of the 19 collateral properties that supposedly secured the loans had been released before the sale. SFG contacted McFarland; McFarland disputed liability. Months later, SFG sued, seeking damages beyond the remedies provided in the contract. Applying the contractual remedies limitation, a formula that resulted in zero recovery under the circumstances, the district court granted judgment for McFarland. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Except in the most extraordinary circumstances, courts hold sophisticated parties to the terms of their bargain. View "S. Fin. Grp. LLC v. McFarland State Bank" on Justia Law
Land of Lincoln Goodwill Indus. v. PNC Bank, NA
Goodwill filed suit against PNC seeking a declaratory judgment that it does not owe a prepayment charge in excess of $300,000 under the terms of its agreement with PNC. The court affirmed the district court's conclusion that Goodwill owed PNC a prepayment fee. Because Goodwill gave notice of its intent to make prepayment during the ten-year period of the loan during which interest on the outstanding principal was accruing at the Initial Rate of 4.79 percent per year, Goodwill owed a prepayment charge. View "Land of Lincoln Goodwill Indus. v. PNC Bank, NA" on Justia Law
Han v. United Continental Holdings, et al.
Plaintiff filed a putative class action against United, alleging that United breached the terms of its frequent-flyer program. Plaintiff argued that United breached the program contract by crediting him for mileage determined by the distance between the airports, instead of the number of miles the airplanes actually flew (including such things as weather diversions and landing delays). The court concluded that plaintiff failed to state a claim for breach of the program because United has discretion to interpret the meaning of "mileage" and the interpretation United gave that term was reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint with prejudice. View "Han v. United Continental Holdings, et al." on Justia Law
McCoy v. Iberdrola Renewables, Inc.
Gamesa contracted with Minnesota-based Outland Renewable Energy to provide maintenance for Gamesa wind turbines. Iberdrola operated Gamesa-made turbines at the Cayuga Wind Farm in Illinois. While servicing a Cayuga urbine, Outland employee McCoy was electrocuted when the turbine unexpectedly reenergized. McCoy filed a personal injury case in state court against Iberdro and Gamesa. The case was removed to federal court on diversity of citizenship grounds. Iberdro impleaded Outland to seek indemnification based on contract and the Illinois Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act. Outland raised 22 counterclaims: including indemnification; federal and state antitrust claims (Illinois, Minnesota, and Texas law); and other state law claims. Outland unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction against Gamesa’s allegedly unfair competitive practices. The district court dismissed all but one of Outland’s counterclaims. Only the indemnification claim survived. McCoy, Gamesa, and Outland settled. The district court accepted the settlement, protecting Outland and Gamesa from further contribution claims under the Illinois JTCA; all claims arising from the accident among those parties were dismissed. Only the original personal injury dispute between McCoy and Iberdrola remained, but the court had not issued a final judgment. About six months after the dismissal, Outland sought leave to amend, arguing for the first time that the substantive law of Minnesota should apply. The district court determined that Outland had waived that issue and denied leave to amend based on futility and undue delay. The proposed amended counterclaims arose from Gamesa’s 2011 attempt to acquire Outland. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Outland’s third-party counterclaims are not part of the original case, so Outland needed an independent basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction to assert them in this lawsuit. The court characterized Outland’s arguments as “desperate.” View "McCoy v. Iberdrola Renewables, Inc." on Justia Law
J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. McDonald
In 2007 the McDonalds opened a J.P. Morgan Bank investment account and a brokerage account with its affiliate, J.P. Morgan Securities (JPMS). Different contracts governed the accounts. The Bank managed the money in the investment account, while the McDonalds directed the funds in their JPMS brokerage account. By the end of 2008, the McDonalds had lost $1.5 million from the Bank investment account. The money held in the JPMS account produced a profit. The McDonalds filed an arbitration demand, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing, and other misrepresentation and mismanagement. They did not name the Bank, but named only JPMS and Bank employees who set up and oversaw the accounts. The McDonalds claimed that the employees ignored their stated investment goals by putting nearly all their money in an illiquid proprietary hedge fund. The claim charged JPMS (not the Bank) with vicarious liability for failing to supervise. JPMS is registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, as are the employees. FINRA is an industry self-regulatory organization, and under its rules JPMS and the employees were subject to arbitration at the McDonalds’ request, an obligation reiterated in the contract governing the JPMS account. The Bank is not a member of FINRA; the Bank’s contract did not provide for arbitration. The Bank sought to prevent arbitration. The district court dismissed, finding that the Bank lacked standing to block the arbitration to which it was not a party and that the two employees were indispensable parties. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The Bank has standing to sue because the arbitration would violate a forum-selection clause in its contract with the McDonalds. The McDonalds cannot avoid that clause by naming only an affiliate and the employees, who are not necessary parties.View "J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. McDonald" on Justia Law
Fellowes Inc. v. Changzhou Xinrui Fellowes Office Equip. Co.
Fellowes filed a breach-of-contract suit against Changzou Fellowes, a business established in China, under the international diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(2). Without discussing subject-matter jurisdiction, the district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of Fellowes, despite the court’s assumption that Changzhou Fellowes had not been served with process. The Seventh Circuit vacated, reasoning that diversity jurisdiction is proper only if Changzhou Fellowes has its own citizenship, independent of its investors or members. Deciding whether a business enterprise based in a foreign nation should be treated as a corporation for the purpose of section 1332 can be difficult. Given the parties’ agreement that Changzhou Fellowes is closer to a limited liability company than to any other business structure in the U.S., it does not have its own citizenship and it does have the Illinois citizenship of its member Hong Kong Fellowes, which prevents litigation under the diversity jurisdiction. View "Fellowes Inc. v. Changzhou Xinrui Fellowes Office Equip. Co." on Justia Law
BouMatic LLC v. Idento Operations BV
Idento makes robotic milking machines in the Netherlands. BouMatic, LLC, based in Wisconsin, entered into an agreement for purchasing and reselling those machines in Belgium. BouMatic claims that Idento breached the agreement by selling direct to at least one of BouMatic’s Belgian customers and by failing to provide parts and warranty service. The district court dismissed, ruling that commercial transactions in the European Union do not expose Idento to litigation in Wisconsin even though BouMatic has its headquarters there, the parties exchanged drafts between Wisconsin and the Netherlands, and Idento shipped one machine to Wisconsin. After exploring the nature of the business entities, the Seventh Circuit vacated for consideration of personal jurisdiction in light of the contract language. Litigants cannot confer subject matter jurisdiction by agreement or omission, but personal jurisdiction is a personal right that a litigant may waive or forfeit. View "BouMatic LLC v. Idento Operations BV" on Justia Law
United States v. Whiteagle
The Ho-Chunk Nation, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, operates casinos in Wisconsin and nets more than $200 million annually from its gambling operations. Cash Systems, one of three businesses involved in this case, engaged in issuing cash to casino customers via automated teller machines and kiosks, check-cashing, and credit- and debit-card advances. Whiteagle, a member of the Nation, held himself out as an insider and offered vendors an entrée into the tribe’s governance and gaming operations. Cash Systems engaged Whiteagle in 2002 as a confidential consultant. Cash Systems served as the Nation’s cash-access services vendor for the next six years, earning more than seven million dollars, while it paid Whiteagle just under two million dollars. Whiteagles’s “in” was his relationship with Pettibone, who had been serving in the Ho-Chunk legislature since 1995. Ultimately, Whiteagle, Pettibone, and another were charged with conspiracy (18 U.S.C. 371) to commit bribery in connection with the contracts with the Ho-Chunk Nation and substantive bribery (18 U.S.C. 666). Whiteagle was also charged with tax evasion and witness tampering. Pettibone pleaded guilty to corruptly accepting a car with the intent to be influenced in connection with a contract. Whiteagle admitted that he had solicited money and other things of value for Pettibone from three companies, but denied actually paying bribes to Pettibone and insisted that he and Pettibone had advocated for Whiteagle’s clients based on what they believed to be the genuine merits of those clients. Convicted on all counts, Whiteagle was sentenced, below-guidelines, to 120 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence on the bribery charges, the loss calculation, and admission of certain evidence.View "United States v. Whiteagle" on Justia Law
Spitz v. Proven Winners N. Am., LLC
Spitz, a freelance copywriter, developed a plan to market “pet safe plants” to the burgeoning pet supplies market. She pitched the idea to Amerinova, a company that develops and licenses plant varieties. Although Amerinova expressed interest, the project stalled. When Spitz discovered that Proven Winners, a company partially owned by the owners of Amerinova, had described some of its plants as “pet friendly” on its website and plant tags, she sued Proven Winners and its owner, Euro. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of Proven Winners and Euro. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Spitz did not identify any legal theory that would make Proven Winners and Euro accountable for a contract allegedly reached with Amerinova.View "Spitz v. Proven Winners N. Am., LLC" on Justia Law
Shuffle Tech Int’l, LLC v. Wolff Gaming, Inc.
Shuffle makes consumer grade automatic card-shuffling equipment. Wolff distributes casino grade gaming equipment. In 2010 the two signed a letter of intent that Shuffle, with financial assistance from Wolff, would develop casino-grade shuffling equipment, and Wolff would become its exclusive distributor. Before development of the new equipment was completed, Shuffle ended the relationship and sought a declaratory judgment that the agreement was not an enforceable contract. Wolff counterclaimed, claiming breach of contract, fraud, and unjust enrichment. The district judge granted summary judgment in favor of Shuffle with respect both to its claim for declaratory relief and to Wolff’s counterclaims, essentially rescinding the agreement. In its complaint, Shuffle acknowledged that it would have to return $124,940 earnest money to Wolff, but the order failed to mention the earnest money. Shuffle ignored Wolff’s request for a refund. Wolff moved, under FRCP 60, that the court order Shuffle to refund the money. The judge entered a post-judgment order requiring the refund, without mentioning Rule 60 or any other ground for amendment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that “if the flaw lies in the translation of the original meaning to the judgment, then Rule 60(a) allows a correction.” The correction just made explicit what the parties must have assumed; that with the draft agreement rescinded the earnest money had to be returned. View "Shuffle Tech Int'l, LLC v. Wolff Gaming, Inc." on Justia Law