Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Aventine Renewable Energy, Inc v. Aberdeen Energy, LLC
Aventine bought ethanol from Glacial. In 2009, the parties executed “termination agreements” that required Aventine to pay Glacial $898,000 for ethanol received before the specified termination date and required Glacial to pay Aventine $1,250,000 for commissions it would have owed for marketing the ethanol that Aventine had agreed to buy. Glacial agreed to assume Aventine’s leases and began using 473 Union Tank railcars for transporting ethanol. When Aventine declared bankruptcy, Glacial owed it $1,600,000 for commissions and railcar leases; Aventine owed Glacial $900,000 for ethanol purchased from Glacial before the termination date. Glacial refused to pay Aventine anything, while continuing to use the railcars. Bypassing Aventine, Glacial made a deal with Union Tank, without securing a release of Aventine, as required by the termination agreements. Consequently, Aventine was required by its bankruptcy plan to settle the Union Tank debt, using $2.3 million worth of Aventine stock. After the bankruptcy, Aventine sued Glacial. The district court granted Glacial summary judgment, stating that while it would be “unjust” to allow Glacial “to avoid any liability” to Aventine, the latter’s failure to make payments doomed Aventine’s claims because “performance is an essential element of its claim for breach of contract.” The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that it was error to place all the onus on Glacial, as both parties had defaulted. View "Aventine Renewable Energy, Inc v. Aberdeen Energy, LLC" on Justia Law
Prather v. Sun Life & Health Insurance Co.
Prather, age 31, tore his left Achilles tendon playing basketball. He scheduled surgery for July 22. On July 21, he called the surgeon’s office complaining of swelling and that an area of the left calf was sensitive and warm to the touch. The surgery was uneventful and he was discharged from the hospital the same day. He returned to work and was doing well in a follow-up visit to his surgeon on August 2. Four days later he collapsed, went into cardiopulmonary arrest, and died as a result of a blood clot in the injured leg that had traveled to a lung. Prather’s widow applied for benefits under his Sun Life group life insurance policy (29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)), which limited coverage to “bodily injuries ... that result directly from an accident and independently of all other causes.” The district court granted Sun Life summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are risks of surgery, but that even with conservative treatment, such as immobilization of the affected limb, the insured had an enhanced risk of a blood clot. The forensic pathologist who conducted a post-mortem examination of Prather did not attribute his death to the surgery. View "Prather v. Sun Life & Health Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Cohan v. Medline Industries, Inc.
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit against their former employer, alleging violations of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA), and other state wage payment statutes, including the New York Labor Law and California Labor Code. They claimed that Medline’s practice of accounting for year-to-year sales declines in calculating and paying commissions was impermissible under the terms of their employment agreements and state wage laws. The district court granted Medline summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs had not performed enough work in Illinois for the IWPCA to apply and that Medline and the plaintiffs had agreed to Medline’s method of calculating commissions, so there was no violation of state wage laws. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Medline’s commission structure is consistent with the written agreements. The court rejected an argument that the structure was, nonetheless, a per se violation of New York and California labor law because it impermissibly recoups Medline’s business losses from its Sales Representatives, even when those losses are outside Sales Representatives’ control. Medline’s inclusion of negative growth in its commission calculation was not an unlawful deduction in disguise, but rather a valid means of incentivizing their salespeople to grow business in their assigned territories. View "Cohan v. Medline Industries, Inc." on Justia Law
Benton County Wind Farm LLC v. Duke Energy Indiana, Inc.
In 2005, Duke Energy bought, from Benton, renewable energy at a price high enough to enable construction of wind turbines, and acquired tradeable renewable‑energy credits. The contract requires Duke to pay Benton for all power delivered during the next 20 years. When Benton's 100-megawat facility started operating in 2008 it was the only area wind farm. Duke paid for everything Benton could produce. The regional transmission organization, Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which implements a bidding system for the network, cleared the power to the regional grid. By 2015, aggregate capacity of local wind farms reached 1,745 megawatts, exceeding the local grid’s capacity. At times, would‑be producers must pay MISO to take power; buyers get free electricity. Initially, MISO allowed wind farms to deliver to the grid no matter what other producers (coal, nuclear, solar, hydro) were doing, which meant that such producers had to cut back. On March 1, 2013, the rules changed to put wind farms on a par with other producers. Under MISO’s new system, with Duke’s responsive bid, Benton has gone from delivering power 100% of the time the wind allowed to delivering only 59% of the time. The district court agreed with Duke that, when MISO tells Benton to stop delivering power, it does not owe Benton anything, rejecting Benton’s claim that Duke could put Benton’s power on the grid by bidding to displace other power, and that when Duke does not, it owes liquidated damages. The judge found that bidding $0 is “reasonable” cooperation. The Seventh Circuit reversed; the contract implies that Duke must do what is needed to make transmission capacity available. View "Benton County Wind Farm LLC v. Duke Energy Indiana, Inc." on Justia Law
Lend Lease (US) Construction, Inc. v. Administrative Employer Services, Inc.
In 2014, Lend Lease, the construction manager of the Chicago River Point Tower Project, hired Cives as a subcontractor. Cives hired Midwest Steel. Midwest had, years before, hired AES to supply Midwest with additional workers, who were co‐employed by Midwest and AES. Lend Lease entered into a “contractor-controlled insurance program” with Starr Liability with a $500,000 deductible. All subcontractors were to join in the policy. AES had, several years earlier, obtained workers’ compensation for its workers from TIC, so that injured AES‐Midwest workers could obtain workers’ compensation from either Starr (or Lend Lease under the deductible) or TIC. Four ironworkers, jointly employed by Midwest and AES and performing work for Midwest were injured on the job and sought workers’ compensation. The claims exceeded $500,000, so Lend Lease had to pay its full deductible. Starr paid the remaining claims. Lend Lease filed suit against TIC, AES’s insurer, and AES, seeking reimbursement of the $500,000. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Lend Lease made a deal with Starr and is bound by it. The court rejected an argument that AES has been unjustly enriched; AES was not obligated to purchase an insurance policy that would cover Lend Lease's deductible. View "Lend Lease (US) Construction, Inc. v. Administrative Employer Services, Inc." on Justia Law
United States Soccer Fed’n Inc. v. United States Nat’l Soccer Ass’n
In 2013, the U.S. Soccer Team Players Association disapproved the US Soccer Federation’s proposed tequila poster advertisement, which contained player images. The Federation issued a notice, declaring that the collective bargaining agreement/uniform player agreement (CBA/UPA) did not require Players Association approval for use of player likenesses for six or more players in print creative advertisements by sponsors. The Players Association filed a grievance and demanded arbitration, arguing that the CBA/UPA did require approval, based on the past practice of the parties. The arbitrator issued an award in favor of the Players Association. The district court confirmed the award. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The contractual provisions are clear and unambiguous, establishing that the parties contemplated and anticipated the use of player likenesses for six players or more and agreed only to “request, but not require” a sponsor contribution to the applicable player pool for advertisements of the type at issue. No other terms that contradict this “request, but not require” condition. View "United States Soccer Fed'n Inc. v. United States Nat'l Soccer Ass'n" on Justia Law
Pine Top Receivables of Ill. v. Transfercom, Ltd.
Following the liquidation of Pine Top Insurance, some of its receivables were assigned to PTRIL, a Delaware LLC with its principal place of business in New York. One of those receivables was owed by Nissan, a Japanese insurance company that transacted business in the U.S. Transfercom, a United Kingdom insurance company had assumed that obligation. PTRIL filed suit in state court alleging breach of contract against Transfercom and seeking recovery under reinsurance treaties entered into by Transfercom’s predecessor and Pine Top in 1981 and 1982. Transfercom removed the litigation to federal court. PTRIL moved to remand, contending that Transfercom had waived its right to remove the case in the reinsurance treaties. Those treaties contain service of suit clauses, stating: In the event of the failure of the Reinsurer hereon to pay any amount claimed to be due hereunder, the Reinsurer hereon, at the request of the Company, will submit to the jurisdiction of any Court of competent jurisdiction within the United States. The district court found that under the plain language, PTRIL reserved the exclusive authority to select jurisdiction and venue; Transfercom waived its right to remove the case to federal court. The Seventh Circuit affirmed: to allow removal would be to ignore the contract’s plain and ordinary meanin View "Pine Top Receivables of Ill. v. Transfercom, Ltd." on Justia Law
Rabinak v. United Bhd. of Carpenters Pension Fund
Rabinak worked full‐time as a business representative for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and, incidental to that position, served on the Council’s Executive Board. He received quarterly payments of $2,500 for his service on the Board, paid by checks separate from those for Rabinak’s weekly salary. When he retired, Rabinak qualified for a pension from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Pension Fund, governed by ERISA. The compensation amount upon which the Fund calculated his annual retirement benefit did not include the $10,000 he had received each year from the Council. The Fund’s appeals committee denied an appeal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plan’s definition of compensation includes only “salary,” and the $2,500 quarterly payments for Board service were paid separately from Rabinak’s weekly salary payments and coded differently as well. The conclusion that the payments at issue were not salary payments under his particular plan was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Rabinak v. United Bhd. of Carpenters Pension Fund" on Justia Law
Bankers Life & Cas/ Ins. Co. v. CBRE, Inc.
In 2011 Bankers leased Chicago office space from CBRE. Another tenant, Groupon, needed more office space. CBRE asked Bankers to sublease to Groupon and relocate. Bankers and CBRE signed a Listing Agreement, including terms required by 225 ILCS 454/15-5(a), 15-75. Bankers told CBRE that it wanted to net $7 million from its deals with Groupon and the lessor of the replacement space. CBRE presented Bankers with cost-benefit analyses (CBAs), comparing the costs of leasing new space with the benefits of subleasing the old space to Groupon. A May 2011 CBA showed a net savings of $6.9 million to Bankers from relocating to East Wacker Drive. Bankers responded by subleasing to Groupon and leasing that space. CBRE’s calculation was inaccurate. It omitted Bankers’ promise to give Groupon a $3.1 million tenant improvement allowance. Had Bankers known it would profit by only $3.8 million, it would have rejected the deal; CBRE would not have obtained $4.5 million in commissions. In an arbitration proceeding, the panel issued three “final decisions,” all favoring CBRE, and awarded costs. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The panel exceeded its authority. It was authorized to interpret the contract (Listing Agreement), which did not include the CBAs or a disclaimer contained in the CBAs. View "Bankers Life & Cas/ Ins. Co. v. CBRE, Inc." on Justia Law
Berg v. New York Life Ins. Co.
Berg was a long‐time pit broker at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In 1991 and 1994, Berg bought disability‐income insurance policies. In 2005, he started to experience a tremor in his arms and hands, which interfered with his ability to write quickly and legibly. In 2007, the tremor forced him to leave his job. In 2010, a neurologist diagnosed Berg with an “essential tremor.” Berg applied for total disability benefits. Although the insurers approved Berg’s claim, they designated his disability onset date as February 2010, rather than September 2007. In 2012, Unum discontinued Berg’s total‐disability benefits, asserting that he was eligible only for residual‐disability benefits because when he applied, his regular occupation was “unemployed person.” The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. The Seventh Circuit reversed, rejecting an argument that, until he saw a physician in 2010, Berg did not meet the policy’s definition: “Total Disability means that the Insured can not [sic] do the substantial and material duties of his or her regular job,” that “[t]he cause of the total disability must be an injury or a sickness,” and that “[t]he injury or sickness must be one which requires and receives regular care by a Physician.” The clause does not contain a temporal element. View "Berg v. New York Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law