Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Patricia Walker-Swinton v. Philander Smith College
Philander Smith College fired Plaintiff after she referred to a student as “retarded” for using a cell phone during class. She sued for sex discrimination, retaliation, and breach of contract. After granting summary judgment to the college on the first two claims, the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the third. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that Plaintiff has not put forward sufficient evidence of pretext. So summary judgment marks the end of the road for her sex-discrimination claim. Further, the court reasoned that even if the conditions were intolerable, in other words, Plainitff’s own role in provoking these incidents undermines the claim that the college created a workplace full of discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult. Moreover, the court explained once Plaintiff’s federal claims were gone, the district court had no obligation to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s Arkansas breach-of-contract claim. View "Patricia Walker-Swinton v. Philander Smith College" on Justia Law
National Union v. Cargill
National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh (National Union) filed suit to obtain a declaration that it owed no payment to Cargill, Inc. under the employee theft clause of the insurance policy held by Cargill. Cargill counterclaimed for breach of contract. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings for Cargill, ruling that Cargill had suffered a covered loss resulting directly from an employee’s theft. National Union appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed and held that the district court did not err by concluding there were no disputes as to any material facts that precluded granting Cargill’s Rule 12(c) motion. Further, the court wrote that Cargill’s insurance policy provided coverage for employee “theft,” which was defined in the policy as “the unlawful taking of property to the deprivation of the Insured.” Additionally, the insured’s loss must have resulted “directly from” employee theft to be covered by the policy. Finally, the court concluded that the date of Cargill’s notice letter was the appropriate date to begin calculating prejudgment interest. View "National Union v. Cargill" on Justia Law
Lindenwood Female College v. Zurich American Insurance Co.
Lindenwood Female College (Lindenwood) asserted class action claims against its casualty insurer, Zurich American Insurance Company (Zurich), alleging a wrongful denial of coverage for COVID-19 business interruption at its Missouri and Illinois properties. The district court granted Zurich’s motion to dismiss, finding no plausible allegation of coverage. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that Lindenwood’s argument fails to identify an ambiguity. The court explained that in its view, no lay person—no reasonable insured—could look at the policy as a whole and fail to appreciate that the state-specific endorsements are intended to apply in the respective states. The references to Louisiana and other states are not mere titles; they serve to establish the structure of the policy as a whole. And it would simply make no sense to define a contamination exclusion with express reference to viral contamination in the main body of the policy only to wholly eliminate that same exclusion nationwide in a later endorsement that references an individual state. View "Lindenwood Female College v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law
City of Carthage, Missouri v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
The City of Carthage sued Union Pacific Railroad Co. for breach of contract, claiming UP failed to maintain several bridges. On summary judgment, the district court ruled that the City’s breach-of-contract claim was barred by the five-year statute of limitations. The City argues that the ten-year statute of limitations applies here because its claim seeks an equitable remedy. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the City’s claim accrued in February 2013, at the latest. On February 15, 2013, the City wrote UP demanding the repair of the bridges—establishing that the City was on notice of a potentially actionable injury. The City waited until 2019—over five years later—to sue UP. The City’s claim is barred by the five-year statute of limitations. Further, here, UP did not engage in any affirmative act during the limitations period. Without more, a failure to act does not justify the continuing wrong rule. View "City of Carthage, Missouri v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Core and Main, LP v. Ron McCabe
Core and Main LP (“C&M”) supplies water, wastewater, storm drainage, and fire protection products and services to commercial and governmental customers. C&M acquired the assets of Minnesota Pipe and Equipment Company (“MPE”), which supplied the same products and services in areas of Minnesota and South Dakota. Defendant, one of the shareholders, was part of MPE’s management team. Defendant started work at Dakota Supply Group, Inc. (“DSG”), a C&M competitor. C&M brought a diversity action against Defendant and DSG, asserting breach of the Employment Agreement’s noncompete and confidentiality covenants, tortious interference, and related claims. The district court granted Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The main issue on appeal is whether the court correctly concluded that the Noncompetition Agreement was a later agreement and, therefore, its Entire Agreement provision superseded the restrictive covenants. The Eighth Circuit concluded that the breach of contract and tortious interference claims turn on fact-intensive issues that cannot be determined on the pleadings. Accordingly, the court reversed the dismissal of those claims and otherwise affirmed. The court explained that it agreed with C&M that it is at least plausible the two Agreements covered different subject matters, making Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal inappropriate. The Noncompetition Agreement restricting MPE shareholders from engaging or investing in a competing business was geographically broad, but its duration was precisely limited to a specific term for each restricted party. In addition, the court concluded that in the context of the multiple agreements that completed the Asset Purchase transaction, the term “prior or contemporaneous” in the Noncompetition Agreement’s Entire Agreement provision is ambiguous. View "Core and Main, LP v. Ron McCabe" on Justia Law
Martinique Properties, LLC v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London
Martinique Properties, LLC filed a complaint against Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London (Underwriters), seeking to vacate an arbitration award. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim for vacatur. Martinique Properties appealed. Martinique Properties argues that the appraisal award must be vacated because the appraisers “used figures and measurements which are contrary to the actual conditions of the Property” and failed to “consider certain buildings” and certain portions of a damaged roof when determining the appraisal award. These alleged errors, Martinique Properties argues, show that the appraisers were either “guilty of misconduct” or “so imperfectly executed” their powers that “a mutual, final, and definite award . . . was not made,” two of the four grounds for vacating an award under the FAA. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court found that Martinique Properties has alleged only factual errors that challenge the merits of the appraisal award, and the court has no authority to reconsider the merits of an arbitration award, even when the parties allege that the award rests on factual errors. Accordingly, the appraisers’ use of certain figures and measurements in calculating the amount of loss here, and their alleged failure to consider particular buildings and portions of roof damage, even if incorrect, are not sufficient for vacatur under the FAA. View "Martinique Properties, LLC v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London" on Justia Law
Mark Rossi v. Arch Insurance Company
Plaintiffs are three skiers who purchased an Ikon Pass for the 2019–20 ski season. Each pass provided purchasers with unlimited ski access at participating Ikon resorts in North America. Along with their Ikon Pass, Plaintiffs purchased an optional Ski Pass Preserver insurance policy from Arch. After Plaintiffs purchased their passes, state and local governments issued orders, colloquially called “stay-at-home orders,” to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In response to these orders, ski resorts throughout North America closed with approximately one-third of the ski season remaining. Plaintiffs sought reimbursement for the loss of their ski pass benefits under the policy based on the Season Pass Interruption coverage. Arch denied their claims. The company took the position that the stay-at-home orders were not quarantines under the policy, later posting a “blanket denial” for such claims on its website. Plaintiffs filed one master consolidated class action complaint on behalf of themselves and a nationwide putative class of individuals who purchased the Ski Pass Preserver policy for the 2019–20 ski season. The district court concluded that Plaintiffs did not plausibly allege a covered loss because the term “quarantined,” as used in the policy, did not encompass stay-at-home orders that merely limited travel and activities. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the ordinary person at the time the Ski Pass Preserver policy was purchased would have understood “quarantined” to mean the compulsory isolation of the insured. Reading the policy as a whole, this is the only reasonable construction, and the court agreed with the district court that the policy language is unambiguous. View "Mark Rossi v. Arch Insurance Company" on Justia Law
C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v. Traffic Tech, Inc.
Employees at C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. jumped ship to join Traffic Tech, Inc. C.H. Robinson then sued five of those former employees and Traffic Tech, raising various state-law claims, including tortious interference with a contractual relationship. After the case was removed to federal court, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the former employees and Traffic Tech. The district court also awarded attorney fees to the former employees and Traffic Tech The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, reversed the judgment in all other respects, and vacated the district court’s order awarding attorney fees and costs. The court held that Minnesota law applies to the interpretation and enforceability of Defendants’ employment contracts. The court remanded for the district court to consider whether C.H. Robinson’s claims or disputes against Peacock arose in California or elsewhere under Peacock’s employment contract. The court further remanded for the district court to substantively analyze whether all or part of the former employees’ contracts are unenforceable and, if not, whether the claims for breach of contract and tortious interference with a contractual relationship survive summary judgment. View "C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v. Traffic Tech, Inc." on Justia Law
R.A.D. Services LLC v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.
Several homeowners hired contractors to repair damage to their homes. The homeowners assigned to the contractors their rights under their insurance policies with State Farm & Casualty Co. State Farm refused to pay. The contractors sued. State Farm moved for summary judgment, arguing the assignments were invalid under Nebraska law. The district court granted the motion. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the parties disagree on whether the terms are sufficient to create a valid assignment of rights. The court held that without a description of the services to be provided and a definite price, these terms are left “to be determined in the future,” and thus, there is no mutuality of obligation. Although the written language is insufficient to create an enforceable assignment, this conclusion, by itself, does not resolve this case. The contractors argued that their oral arrangements cure any deficiencies that may exist in the written agreements. The court concluded that it cannot conclude that the assignments here are invalid as a matter of law simply because the written “vital terms” were not as definite as they could have been. View "R.A.D. Services LLC v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Bradley DeWall v. Medical Protective Company
Medical Protective Company (“MedPro”) issued Professional Liability policies to Dr. Bradley DeWall and Wound Management Consultants, P.C. (collectively, “WMC”). Coverage Paragraph A insured WMC against “claim[s] for damages . . . based on professional services rendered or which should have been rendered . . . by the insured . . . in the practice of the insured’s profession.” In this coverage action, the parties dispute whether Paragraph A covers a third party’s claim to recover Medicare reimbursements it had to repay because of deficiencies in WMC’s documentation of the professional services it provided. Applying Iowa law, the district court1 ruled, consistent with other courts that have considered the issue, that the third party’s “Medicare recoupment” claim is not “based upon professional services” and, therefore coverage is limited to the $50,000 of defense costs provided in the policies’ separate Medicare Endorsement. WMC appealed this summary judgment ruling, raising numerous issues. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that MedPro had no duty to defend WMC from Genesis’s Medicare recoupment claim under the policies’ Paragraph A coverage. The court also agreed with the district court that there is no duty to defend the other claims Genesis asserted in its arbitration complaint because those claims are not “based upon professional services rendered . . . in the practice of [WMC’s] profession.” View "Bradley DeWall v. Medical Protective Company" on Justia Law