Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Stone Surgical LLC v. Stryker Corp.
Ridgeway was employed as a Stryker sales representative from 2001-2013. Stryker’s faxed employment offer stated Ridgeway’s employment was contingent on his signing and returning an offer letter, a form non-compete agreement, and a code of conduct. From 2000-2005, Stryker used the same form non-compete agreement with all employees, which included a one-year non-compete clause, a customer non-solicit clause, an employee non-solicit clause, and a Michigan choice-of-law clause and a Michigan forum-selection clause. Ridgeway signed and returned the documents. Despite becoming one of Stryker’s top performers, in 2013, Ridgeway considered working for Stryker’s competitor, Biomet. Ridgeway claims that Stryker indicated that he was not covered under a non-compete agreement. Stryker terminated his employment and Ridgeway began working for Biomet within his former Stryker Louisiana-based sales territories. Stryker filed suit. The district court denied Ridgeway’s motion to dismiss based on the forum-selection clause in the non-compete agreement. Biomet terminated Ridgeway for fear of liability. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Stryker on its breach-of-contract, breach-of-fiduciary-duty, and misappropriation-of-trade-secrets claims and awarded damages in the amount of $745,195. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Ridgeway’s challenges to the authenticity of the agreement and to the choice of law provision. View "Stone Surgical LLC v. Stryker Corp." on Justia Law
Cole v. Meritor, Inc.
In 2008, the Sixth Circuit held that the retired employees of Meritor and Meritor’s predecessors had a vested right to lifetime healthcare benefits. A petition for rehearing was held in abeyance for eight years while the parties attempted to settle their dispute. During the intervening eight years, the Supreme Court abrogated precedent on which the Sixth Circuit had relied, holding that a series of collective bargaining agreements materially indistinguishable from those involved in the Meritor case did not provide the retirees with lifetime healthcare benefits. On rehearing, the Sixth Circuit entered a superseding opinion and reversed, acknowledging that the case is now controlled by the Supreme Court’s decisions in Tackett (2015) and Gallo (2016) and that the language of the documents does not guarantee lifetime benefits. View "Cole v. Meritor, Inc." on Justia Law
Wilmington Trust Co. v. AEP Generating Co.
Nearly 20 years after defendants built, sold, and leased back a Rockport Indiana coal-burning power plant, they committed, in a consent decree resolving lawsuits involving alleged Clean Air Act violations at their other power plants, to either make over a billion dollars of emission control improvements to the plant, or shut it down. The sale and leaseback arrangement was a means of financing construction. Defendants then obtained a modification to the consent decree providing that these improvements need not be made until after their lease expired, pushing their commitments to improve the air quality of the plant’s emissions to the plaintiff, the investors who had financed construction and who would own the plant after the 33-year lease term. The district court held this encumbrance did not violate the parties’ contracts governing the sale and leaseback, and that plaintiff’s breach of contract claims precluded it from maintaining an alternative cause of action for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that a Permitted Lien exception in the lease unambiguously supports the plaintiff’s position and that the defendants’ actions “materially adversely affected’ plaintiff’s interests. View "Wilmington Trust Co. v. AEP Generating Co." on Justia Law
Kinzel v. Bank of America
In 2008, Kinzel, then CEO of Cedar Fair, borrowed $8,000,000 from Merrill Lynch to finance his exercise of the company’s stock options and to pay estimated taxes that would be due immediately upon exercise. Kinzel pledged the shares that he would acquire as collateral and entered into an agreement that allowed Merrill Lynch, “in its sole discretion and without prior notice,” to “liquidate” the collateral upon any of twelve events, including “if the value of the . . . collateral is in the sole judgment of [Merrill Lynch] insufficient.” The market value of the company dropped from the exercise price of $23.19 per share in April 2008 to $6.99 per share in March 2009. Having set a $7.00-per-share “trigger” to liquidate, Merrill Lynch began selling Kinzel’s shares, without advance notice to Kinzel and without first making demand upon Kinzel for repayment. Kinzel appealed the district court’s denial of leave to file an amended complaint to reassert a breach-of-contract claim that had been dismissed, and final judgment in favor of Merrill Lynch on a breach-of-good-faith claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that Kinzel could not state a claim for breach of contract and that Merrill Lynch exercised its discretion within the “contemplated range” of “judgment based upon sincerity, honesty, fair dealing and good faith.” View "Kinzel v. Bank of America" on Justia Law
Babcock & Wilcox Co. v. Cormetech, Inc.
In 2005, B&W entered into a contract to design and construct a Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) system to control emissions at KCP&L’s coal-burning Kansas power station. B&W purchased catalyst modules for the SCR from Cormetech, which guaranteed that the catalyst would perform under specified conditions for 24,000 operating hours before needing replacement. KCP&L began operating the SCR in April 2007. A June 2007 performance test revealed that the rate of “ammonia slip” was higher than expected, but within guaranteed limits. B&W advised Cormetech of the issue. Cormetech began testing. A September 2008 letter from KCP&L advised that it was B&W’s obligation to “generate a corrective action plan.” After KCP&L determined in 2008 that the catalyst was at the end of its useful life, it contracted directly with Cormetech for a replacement, which also failed before the end of its expected life. KCP&L’s claim against B&W resulted in a $3.5 million meditation settlement. B&W sued Cormetech; the case was dismissed without prejudice pursuant to the parties’ tolling agreement while B&W pursued mediation with KCP&L. After those efforts resulted in the settlement, B&W reinstituted the action within the agreed period. Following discovery the district court granted Cormetech summary judgment, finding a breach-of-warranty claim time-barred and that an indemnification claim failed for lack of evidence that B&W’s losses resulted from a defect in goods or services purchased from Cormetech. The Sixth Circuit vacated, finding that the court erred by failing to view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. View "Babcock & Wilcox Co. v. Cormetech, Inc." on Justia Law
Dodd v. City of Chattanooga
Before 2013, the surviving spouse of a member of Chattanooga’s Fire and Police Pension Fund could receive benefits after the member died without incurring a proportional reduction in the member’s lifetime benefits. In 2012, the city removed this “default death benefit” for members who were not eligible to retire as of January 1, 2013. Dodd was not eligible to retire on that date and opted for a five-percent reduction in current, lifetime benefits so that his wife could receive an additional benefit upon his death. Dodd sued, asserting claims under the federal Contract Clause, Due Process Clause, and Takings Clause, and Tennessee’s Law of the Land Clause. Dodd also argued that the 2012 amendment was not validly enacted under local law. The district court granted the city summary judgment on all claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Because Dodd does not have a contract or property right to the default death benefit, his constitutional claims fail. Although Dodd’s interest in some future benefits vested after 10 years of service, but Dodd did not become entitled to the default death benefit when he hit 10 years. Dodd’s challenge to the validity of the amendment’s enactment is also without merit. View "Dodd v. City of Chattanooga" on Justia Law
Soehnlen v. Fleet Owners Insurance Fund
Fleet Owners Fund is a multi-employer “welfare benefit plan” under the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, and a “group health plan” under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), 26 U.S.C. 5000A. Superior Dairy contracted with Fleet for employee medical insurance; the Participation Agreement incorporated by reference a 2002 Agreement. In a purported class action, Superior and its employee alleged that, before entering into the Agreement, it received assurances from Fleet Owners and plan trustees, that the plan would comply in all respects with federal law, including ERISA and the ACA. Plaintiffs claim that, notwithstanding the ACA’s statutory requirement that all group health plans eliminate per-participant and per-beneficiary pecuniary caps for both annual and lifetime benefits, the plan maintains such restrictions and that Superior purchased supplemental health insurance benefits to fully cover its employees. Fleet argued that the plan is exempt from such requirements as a “grandfathered” plan. The district court dismissed the seven-count complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring claims under ERISA and ACA, having failed to allege concrete injury, and did not allege specific false statements. View "Soehnlen v. Fleet Owners Insurance Fund" on Justia Law
Whitlock v. FSL Management, LLC
In 2010, plaintiffs, former employees of establishments that operate in “Fourth Street Live,” a Louisville entertainment district, sued, alleging violations of the Kentucky Wage and Hour Act, KRS 337.385, based on policies regarding off-the-clock work and mandatory tip-pooling. In 2012, the district court granted class certification under Rules 23(a) and 23(b). In 2013, the defendants unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration, citing the Supreme Court’s 2013 "Comcast" decision. In 2014, the parties reached a financial settlement. It took almost another year to reach an agreement regarding non-monetary terms. In March 2015, the parties filed a joint status report declaring that they had reached a settlement agreement and anticipated filing formal settlement documents in April. The defendants then became aware of a February 2015 Kentucky Court of Appeals holding that KRS 337.385 could not support class-action claims. Defendants unsuccessfully moved to stay approval of the settlement. The court granted preliminary approval of the settlement. The Sixth Circuit denied an appeal as untimely because the defendants had not challenged an appealable class-certification order under Rule 23(f). Defendants filed another unsuccessful decertification motion with the district court. The court granted final approval of the settlement as “a binding contract under Kentucky law.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A post-settlement change in the law does not alter the binding nature of the parties’ agreement. View "Whitlock v. FSL Management, LLC" on Justia Law
Stryker Corp. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co.
In the 1990s, Stryker purchased a Pfizer subsidiary that made orthopedic products, including the “Uni-knee” artificial joint. It was later discovered that those devices were sterilized using gamma rays, which caused polyethylene to degrade. If implanted past their five-year shelf-life, the knees could fail. Expired Uni-Knees were implanted in patients. Stryker, facing individual product-liability claims and potentially liable to Pfizer, sought defense and indemnification under a $15 million XL “commercial umbrella” policy, and a TIG “excess liability” policy that kicked in after the umbrella policy was fully “exhausted.” XL denied coverage, arguing that the Uni-Knee claims were “known or suspected” before the inception of the policy. Stryker filed lawsuits against the insurers, then unilaterally settled its individual product-liability claims for $7.6 million. Stryker was adjudicated liable to Pfizer for $17.7 million. About 10 years later, the Sixth Circuit held that XL was obliged to provide coverage. XL paid out the Pfizer judgment first, exhausting coverage limits. TIG declined to pay the remaining $7.6 million, arguing that Stryker failed to obtain “written consent” at the time the settlements were made. Stryker claimed that the policy was latently ambiguous because XL satisfied the Pfizer judgment first, Stryker was forced to present its settlements to TIG years after they were made. The district court granted Stryker summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding the contract unambiguous in requiring consent. View "Stryker Corp. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Frazier v. City of Chattanooga
The City of Chattanooga added a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to its Fire and Police Pension Fund in 1980. In 2000, the city amended the COLA for a third time to create a fixed three-percent annual increase in retirement benefits. The city amended the COLA again in 2014 to a lower, variable annual increase. Fund participants challenged the 2014 amendment under the Contract Clause, claiming a right to the fixed three-percent COLA. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. There is no unmistakable evidence of the city’s intent to be bound to the fixed COLA, because the COLA is neither vested nor accrued within the meaning of the City Code. Absent some clear indication that the legislature intends to bind itself contractually, a statute does not create a contractual relationship. The City Code contains one vesting provision: After 10 years of service, a participant has the right either to a full refund of her contributions or to retirement benefits upon turning 55. The section does not mention the COLA. The fact that the Fund described the fixed three-percent COLA as “guaranteed” when enacting the 2000 amendment does not prove that the city intended to be bound to the fixed COLA. View "Frazier v. City of Chattanooga" on Justia Law