Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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This dispute arose from a 2013 oil well blowout on the HERCULES 265 drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. After the rig's charterer filed suit raising products liability claims against a refurbisher of the rig's blowout-prevention components, counterclaims and third-party claims ensued. The district court subsequently granted a series of summary judgments, based both on contractual indemnity and also on the merits of the liability claims. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Hercules' duty to defend, hold harmless, and indemnify Axon; reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Walter's duty to directly indemnify Axon; reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Walter's duty to indemnify Hercules for Axon's claims; vacated the district court's order excluding Bellemare's testimony; vacated the district court's orders excluding the expert reports of Sones, Bourgoyne, Williams, Rusnak, Bellemare, and Adair, as well as the orders excluding the affidavits of Sones and Bourgoyne; reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the causation and "unreasonably dangerous condition" prongs of the Louisiana Products Liability Act; vacated the district court's final judgment and fee orders; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's v. Axon Pressure Products Inc." on Justia Law

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After Wayne Bourgeois contracted mesothelioma, he filed suit against Chevron and other defendants in state court. Chevron settled with Bourgeois for $550,000, and then sought contractual indemnity from Jacobs Field Services. The district court determined that Chevron was entitled to the full value of the settlement as well as about $256,000 in attorney's fees and costs. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that Chevron easily met its burden to establish potential liability as the governing rule, and the district court did not err in setting potential liability as the operative standard; Chevron established, as a matter of law, that it was potentially liable to Bourgeois; and the district court did not err by finding that the relevant indemnity provision unambiguously entitled Chevron to indemnity in the Bourgeois suit and attorney's fees and "ordinary litigation costs." View "Chevron Oronite Co., LLC v. Jacobs Field Services North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Whitney Bank filed suit against SMI and its president and loan guarantor in order to collect under two loan agreements upon which SMI allegedly defaulted. SMI filed several counterclaims. The Fifth Circuit held that SMI's breach of contract claim against Whitney Bank failed for two reasons: first, under basic contract interpretation principles, the mere recital of the purpose of the loan, when read in conjunction with the rest of the document, did not require Whitney Bank to continue to provide funding to SMI until that purpose was fulfilled, regardless of SMI's default and failure to make payment as required under the loans; and second, the remainder of SMI's breach claims are based on unwritten purported oral agreements between Whitney Bank employees and SMI. Therefore, the court affirmed the magistrate judge's ruling in favor of Whitney Bank on its main demand for recovery under Loan 1; reversed the magistrate judge's ruling against Whitney Bank on its main demand for recovery on Loan 2; and remanded and rendered judgment in favor of Whitney Bank on the Loan 2 claim. The court reversed and remanded for the magistrate judge to render judgment in favor of Whitney Bank on SMI's counterclaims for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, tortious interference with business relations, and breach of duty to deal in good faith. However, the court affirmed the magistrate judge's ruling that Whitney Bank was not entitled to recover from SMI for attorneys' fees and costs. View "Whitney Bank v. SMI Companies Global, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a helicopter owned by PHI was required to make an emergency landing in the Gulf of Mexico when its Rolls-Royce-manufactured engine failed, PHI filed suit against Rolls-Royce, Apical, and OHS. The emergency flotation system manufactured by Apical and serviced by OHS partially deflated after the landing and caused the helicopter to turn over in the water, resulting in a total loss due to salt water incursion. The jury found Apical liable for the loss of the helicopter. The Fifth Circuit held that the magistrate judge's pretrial exclusion of all evidence regarding the engine failure and verdict form rulings were in error, because, under Louisiana law, Rolls-Royce is a potential solidary obligor along with Apical. Furthermore, a finding of solidary liability would result in a reduction of damages award against Apical due to Rolls-Royce's earlier settlement with PHI. Accordingly, the court vacated the trial court's judgment and remanded for trial on the issue of solidary liability. View "PHI, Inc. v. Apical Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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PNR appealed the district court's judgment in favor of BNSF in a contract dispute between the two railroad companies. The Fifth Circuit held that the first issue raised by PNR was determinative of the appeal, and that the handling-carrier relationship established by the 1993 Agreement between the parties is terminable at will under Illinois law and that PNR consequently had a right to terminate the relationship unilaterally upon reasonable notice to BNSF. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and rendered judgment in favor of PNR. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. Panhandle Northern Railroad, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's adverse judgment against Universal Truckload following a jury trial, holding that Universal Truckload failed to demonstrate reversible error. The court held that the district court correctly denied the judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) asking the court to reverse the jury's finding that Dalton was entitled to $5.7 million in reliance damages under promissory estoppel; the district court correctly concluded that the $1.9 million breach of contract damages in Universal Truckload's favor should be offset because the debt arose from reliance on Universal Truckload's promise; and the district court correctly determined that neither H&P nor Hess was liable for the shipping charges Universal Truckload incurred. View "Universal Truckload, Inc. v. Dalton Logistics, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this breach of contract action, the parties dispute the district court's damages award. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that Bank of the West was not entitled to contractual liquidated damages, but vacated the district court's alternative damages award and remanded for recalculation. Although the court agreed with the district court that the liquidated damages provision of the parties' contract was unenforceable because it contravened the Louisiana Lease of Movables Act, the court held that the district court erred by basing its alternative damages calculation on the expectations of the lessor's assignee, Bank of the West, rather than those of the original lessor, Summit Funding Group. View "Bank of the West v. Prince" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, an employee of Centaur, was injured while offloading a generator from a crew boat to a barge, he filed suit against the owner and operator of the boat (River Ventures) and Centaur for vessel negligence under general maritime law and the Jones Act. River Ventures cross-claimed against Centaur for contractual indemnity, and the district court granted summary judgment to Centaur. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court misapplied In re Larry Doiron, Inc., 879 F.3d 568 (5th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 2033 (2018), and erroneously concluded that the Dock Contract at issue was non-maritime. The court held that Doiron's two-part test applied as written to all mixed-services contracts: in order to be maritime, a contract must be for services to facilitate activity on navigable waters and must provide, or the parties must expect, that a vessel will play a substantial role in the completion of the contract. Applying the Doiron test, the court held that the Dock Contract at issue required services to be performed to facilitate the loading, offloading, and transportation of coal and petroleum coke via vessels on navigable waters. Furthermore, Doiron's second prong was satisfied where the Dock Contract made clear that the parties expected DB-582 to play a significant role in the completion of the work. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Barrios v. Centaur, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Orkin and dismissal of their numerous claims under Louisiana law. Plaintiffs had contracted with Orkin to protect their property from termites, but later discovered that their home had become infested with Formosan termites. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment and dismissing plaintiffs' claim that Orkin was contractually liable for the cost of repairing the damage to their home caused by Formosan termites; the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to Orkin on plaintiffs' Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act and Louisiana Insurance Code claims; and the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiffs' detrimental reliance claim. However, the district court erred by dismissing plaintiffs' claim that Orkin was negligent or grossly negligent in directing and approving installation of a moisture barrier under their home. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Cenac v. Orkin, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Texas answered two certified questions, holding that the time for determining the existence and amount of unpaid commission due under Tex. Bus. & Com. Code section 54.001(1) is the time the jury or trial court determines the liability of the defendant, whether at trial or through another dispositive trial-court process such as a summary judgment; and that a plaintiff may recover attorney's fees and costs under section 54.004(2) even if the plaintiff does not receive treble damages, if the factfinder determines that the fees and costs were reasonably incurred under the circumstances. The Fifth Circuit held that CPTS was not entitled to treble damages, and the district court was thus correct to grant summary judgment to Horsburgh on the treble damages claim. In this case, there were no unpaid commissions due at the time of judgment, because Horsburgh had already paid all of its outstanding commissions, plus interest. The court also held that CPTS was eligible for attorney's fees simply by virtue of Horsburgh's breach. Therefore, the district court correctly concluded that CPTS was not entitled to treble damages, but erred by granting summary judgment to Horsburgh without awarding CPTS reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "JCB, Inc. v. The Horsburgh & Scott Co." on Justia Law