Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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This case concerns the application of two Minnesota statutes and a rule promulgated by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) that establishes the liability of a parent company for the unmet contractual obligations of its subsidiary under certain kinds of agricultural contracts. At issue is whether the relevant laws apply to chicken production contracts between Defendants (collectively, the Growers), who are Minnesota chicken producers, and Simply Essentials, LLC (Simply Essentials), a chicken processor. If they apply, then Plaintiff Pitman Farms (Pitman Farms), a California corporation and Simply Essentials’ parent company is liable to the Growers for Simply Essentials’ breaches of contract.   The district court granted Pitman Farms’s summary-judgment motion and denied the Growers’ cross-motion based upon its conclusion that the Minnesota parent-liability authorities do not by their terms apply to the subject contracts because those authorities do not apply to parent companies of LLCs.   The Eighth Circuit reversed. The court explained that the Minnesota legislature’s lack of amendment subsequent to the advent of LLCs played a significant role in the district court’s conclusion. The court concluded that it does think that this fact suffices to exclude LLCs from the operation of the laws at issue in this case. Further, here, the legislative intent is clear: with respect to agricultural contracts, the Minnesota legislature intended parent companies to be liable for the breaches of their subsidiaries. Accordingly, the court held that the use of the phrase “corporation, partnership, or association” in the relevant statutes and Rule is intended to include LLCs for the purpose of parent company liability. View "Pitman Farms v. Kuehl Poultry, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff suffered serious injuries when his motorcycle collided with a car driven by a negligent motorist. After exhausting its liability limits, he next looked to the underinsured-motorist benefits of a policy covering just his motorcycle. When those benefits fell short too, he turned to a policy underwritten by Standard Fire Insurance Company that covered vehicles other than his motorcycle.   Relying on what the parties call the owned-but-not-insured exclusion, it denied coverage because the accident occurred with a vehicle that Plaintiff had decided to insure elsewhere. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court agreed with Standard Fire that it owed nothing. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that the exclusion is ambiguous. Even if “this coverage” might lend itself to some ambiguity in isolation, the remainder of the policy points to only one reasonable interpretation: the owned-but-not-insured exclusion applies in precisely this situation. View "John Eberlein v. Standard Fire Ins Co" on Justia Law

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After being hit by an under-insured motorist, Plaintiff experienced worsening symptoms from his Parkinson’s disease. His condition eventually deteriorated to the point that he could no longer work as a doctor. Plaintiff sued Encompass Insurance for $500,000, the maximum available under his automobile policy. The state trial court granted summary judgment to Plaintiff, concluding that Encompass failed to refute that Plaintiff lost at least $500,000 in earning capacity because of the accident. On removal, a federal district court held that it was unable to vacate that judgment.   The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court interpreted Encompass’s notice of appeal as challenging the Arkansas court’s ruling, as merged into the final judgment of the district court, and held that it constituted an appeal of a “final decision of a district court of the United States” under 28 U.S.C. Section 1291.   The court also rejected the district court’s conclusion that a federal court lacks jurisdiction to vacate the state court’s summary judgment order. The court explained that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine has no application to a properly removed case where, as here, there is no attack on a separate and final state-court judgment. Finally, the court held that the Arkansas court erred by granting summary judgment. The conflict between expert witnesses created a genuine dispute of material fact, so summary judgment was improper. View "Paul Wills v. Encompass Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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This insurance coverage dispute involves claims for coverage by Doe Run Resources Corporation against its insurer, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, stemming from multiple lawsuits against Doe Run’s Peruvian subsidiary, Doe Run Peru, which allege various claims stemming from Doe Run Peru’s alleged release of toxic chemicals from a metallurgical plant. After an earlier coverage dispute in state court, where the court determined that a pollution exclusion in St. Paul’s policy precluded coverage, Doe Run filed this action alleging that additional, newly discovered facts implicated an exception to the exclusion that was not raised in the previous state court action. St. Paul filed a motion to dismiss based on issue and claim preclusion. The district court granted the motion based on issue preclusion, and Doe Run appeals.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in granting St. Paul’s motion to dismiss based on issue preclusion, and because the district court did not err, the court wrote, it need not consider the parties arguments regarding claim preclusion. The court explained that in the absence of subsequent events or circumstances representing an actual change between the prior state court action and this action, issue preclusion applies. Here, St. Paul did reconsider Doe Run’s claim for coverage when Doe Run resubmitted the claim following the nine newly filed lawsuits alleging pollution from the La Oroya plant, which alleged a new theory of liability. View "Doe Run Resources Corporation v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins Co" on Justia Law

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The Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority is a public corporation created to handle wastewater treatment for municipalities in northwest Arkansas. After a series of pipeline failures, the Authority sued the pipeline contractor and its surety, alleging deficient construction. The Authority sued outside the time periods specified in the relevant statutes of limitations and repose, but asserted that the time did not run against its claims, because the Authority was suing as a public entity seeking to vindicate public rights. The district court concluded that the rights the Authority sought to enforce were merely proprietary and that its claims were therefore time-barred.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the relevant proprietary interests are not transformed into public rights just because the Authority spent public money to repair the pipeline. Every action by a public entity impacts the public fisc to some degree. But if financial implications alone were enough to invoke nullum tempus, then the public-rights exception would swallow the general rule that statutes of limitations and repose run against municipal entities. Here, the damages sought would replenish the public entity’s coffers, but the relief would not vindicate a distinct public right. The Authority therefore cannot invoke nullum tempus to avoid the statutes of limitations or repose. View "NW AR Conservation Authority v. Crossland Heavy Contractors" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff made contributions to a 401(k) plan during her employment at Honeywell International Inc. She originally designated her husband, Defendant, as the sole beneficiary in the event of her death. The parties later divorced and in the marital termination agreement (MTA), they agreed that Plaintiff will be awarded, free and clear of any claim on the part of Defendant’s, all of the parties’ right, title, and interest in and to the Honeywell 401(k) Savings and Ownership Plan. Plaintiff submitted a change-of-beneficiary form to Honeywell. She, however, did not comply with a requirement.   Plaintiff died in 2019 and Honeywell paid the benefits to Defendant. The personal representative of Plaintiff’s estate sued Honeywell for breach of fiduciary duty, and Defendant for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, and civil theft. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Honeywell and reversed summary judgment for Defendant on the breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims.   The court explained that even if the Plan gave the administrator discretion to accept Plaintiff’s defective Form, it is not an abuse of discretion to act in accordance with plan documents. ERISA directs administrators to “discharge [their] duties . . . in accordance with the documents and instruments governing the plan.” Thus, because Honeywell followed plan documents in rejecting Plaintiff’s defective change-of-beneficiary form and distributing benefits, the breach of fiduciary duty claim fails. Further, even if the MTA were ambiguous, a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff and Defendant intended for the MTA to waive his beneficiary interest in the 401(k). View "Robert Gelschus v. Clifford Hogen" on Justia Law

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The district court granted Perficient, Inc.’s motion for summary judgment against Defendants. It awarded nominal damages and attorney’s fees to Perficient, but its orders did not quantify the amount of the award. Defendants appeal. Perficient filed a motion to dismiss for lack of appellate jurisdiction, arguing that the orders from which Defendants appealed are not final.The Eighth Circuit granted Perficient’s motion and dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction finding that Defendants’ appeal was not taken from a final, appealable order and was therefore ineffective to confer appellate jurisdiction upon the court. The court explained that Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(2) cannot save the prematurely filed notice of appeal here. The rule applies “only when a district court announces a decision that would be appealable if immediately followed by the entry of judgment” and does not save a premature appeal “from a clearly interlocutory decision—such as a discovery ruling or a sanction order under Rule 11. View "Perficient v. Thomas Munley" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a neurosurgeon, chose to use implants distributed by DS Medical, a company wholly owned by his fiancée. Physicians in other practices grew suspicious and filed various claims under the False Claims Act. The jury returned a verdict for the government on two of the three claims. The district court then awarded treble damages and statutory penalties in the amount of $5,495,931.22. Following the verdict, the government moved to dismiss its two remaining claims without prejudice, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2), on the ground that any recovery would be “smaller and duplicative of what the [c]ourt ha[d] already awarded.”   The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial. The court explained that are several ways to prove that a claim is “false or fraudulent” under the False Claims Act. One of them is to show that it “includes items or services resulting from a violation” of the anti-kickback statute. This case required the court to determine what the words “resulting from” mean. The court concluded that it creates a but-for causal requirement between an anti-kickback violation and the “items or services” included in the claim. Thus, the court reversed and remanded because district court did not instruct the jury along these lines. View "United States v. Midwest Neurosurgeons, LLC, et al" on Justia Law

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After disputes arose between a general contractor and two of its subcontractors, an arbitrator awarded the subcontractors money for the labor and material they had provided the general contractor along with associated costs, attorneys' fees, interest, and other sums. The general contractor declared bankruptcy before paying up, and the surety company that issued a bond guaranteeing the subcontractors would be paid tendered amounts representing only the part of the awards that compensated for labor and material (and some interest). But the subcontractors (or in one case, the subcontractor's assignee) wanted the whole of the awards and sued in federal court to get it.   The district court sided with the surety and granted it summary judgment. The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the surety. The court held that the bond at issue obligates the surety to pay not only for labor and material but also for other related items to which Plaintiffs’ subcontracts entitle them (or their assignees). The court explained that the bond provided that if the subcontractors were not paid in full, which is the case here, they were entitled to sums "justly due," which included costs, attorneys' fees and interest. View "Owners Insurance Company v. Fidelity & Deposit Company" on Justia Law

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Rock Dental Arkansas PLLC and Rock Dental Missouri LLC (Rock Dental) operate dental clinics in Arkansas and Missouri. After Rock Dental’s insurer, Cincinnati Insurance Company (Cincinnati), denied coverage for Rock Dental’s claims for losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rock Dental sued for breach of contract. The district court granted Cincinnati’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Rock Dental has failed to plausibly allege that COVID-19 physically damaged its properties or that removal of any virus from its properties was required. Further, Rock Dental has not shown that it is entitled to coverage under the Civil Authority Coverage. The court explained that coverage requires allegations of physical loss of or damage to properties other than Rock Dental’s clinics. Rock Dental’s complaint contains no such allegations. View "Rock Dental Arkansas PLLC v. Cincinnati Insurance Company" on Justia Law