Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Harrison Co., L.L.C. executed a credit agreement with A-Z Wholesalers, Inc. to supply A-Z with tobacco products and other goods. Barkat Ali personally guaranteed A-Z’s payment. A-Z fell behind $2.6 million on payments for the goods it received, so Harrison sued for breach of contract and breach of guaranty actions against A-Z and Ali. The district court granted summary judgment for Harrison.A-Z and Ali argue there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the sales that Harrison is seeking payment for were, in reality, sales from Imperial following the merger of the two companies. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that Imperial and Harrison are—and always have been—separate entities with their own employees, customers, and warehouses. As the district court explained, A-Z and Ali do not allege, let alone present evidence, “that A-Z experienced any changes in ordering procedures, pricing, delivery schedules, type or brand of goods, inventory availability, or any other indicia that . . . [shows] it was no longer doing business with Harrison.” Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment. View "Harrison Company v. A-Z Whsle" on Justia Law

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CAE Integrated L.L.C. and Capital Asset Exchange and Trading, L.L.C. (collectively CAE) sued its former employee and his current employer, Moov, for misappropriation of trade secrets and then moved for a preliminary injunction. The district court denied the preliminary injunction and CAE appealed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial finding that CAE failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits of its claims. The court considered that trade secret information derives independent economic value from being not generally known or readily ascertainable through proper means. What CAE refers to as the “transactional documents” are files from Google Drive with purchase orders, invoices, customer equipment needs, and pricing history. The former employee has not had access to his MacBook since 2016 and he testified that Google Drive contained none of the transactional documents when he started at Moov. The district court found the employee’s testimony credible and the forensic analysis confirmed that before the employee began at Moov, he deleted any remaining transactional documents from his Google Drive. Therefore, the district court did not clearly err in finding that neither the employee nor Moov misappropriated trade secrets. Further, even if CAE had established that the employee or Moov misappropriated trade secrets, it failed to show the use or potential use of trade secrets. View "CAE Integrated v. Moov Technologies" on Justia Law

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GenMa is a power company that, long ago, leased two coal-fired power plants from the Lessors. To comply with those leases, GenMa paid NFC $130 million to insure the Lessors up to that sum if GenMa didn’t pay rent. Too late, NFC realized it had promised the Lessors more than $130 million. The Lessors forced NFC to honor its promise, and NFC sued GenMa and others for its losses.   GenMa removed NFC’s claims to district court, which then transferred those claims to a bankruptcy court in Texas. After losing there and at the district court, NFC appealed. It says that its claims against GenMa should return to New York state court because the federal court lacked jurisdiction or because federal law required abstention. NFC also insists, pressing four contract-law theories, that GenMa must cover NFC’s losses.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding that the district court had jurisdiction; abstention was not required; and NFC’s claims lack merit.  The court explained that the parties may have miscalculated the amount of credit support needed to satisfy GenMa’s lease obligations. But that mistake, mutual or not, was GenMa’s problem. Had Natixis carefully crafted its letters of credit, NFC would not have had to pay any more to the Lessors than GenMa had paid it, no matter how badly the parties miscalculated the credit support that GenMa’s leases required. The court agreed with GenMa: “NFC cannot demand more money from GenMa for discovering that it could have obtained less credit support” than the Agreement required, and reformation cannot erase that unforced blunder. View "Natixis Funding v. GenOn Mid-Atl" on Justia Law

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Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”) sought to end its operations in Palestine, Texas but has been unable to do so because of a 1954 Agreement between its predecessor and Defendants City of Palestine (“Palestine”) and Anderson County, Texas (“Anderson County”) has prevented it from leaving.   Union Pacific filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted, holding that the 1954 Agreement was expressly and impliedly preempted. After the district court entered judgment, Palestine and Anderson County filed suit in Texas state court seeking to enforce the 1955 Judgment which had approved the 1954 Agreement.   Defendants appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Union Pacific and the denials of their motion to dismiss for failure to join a necessary party, motion for judgment on the pleadings, and cross-motion for summary judgment.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment for Union Pacific after determining that federal law preempts the statutorily mandated contractual agreements between the parties, both expressly and as applied. The court explained that there is no requirement for contemporaneous movement of property related to the rails for the regulation to be preempted. If the facilities or services—in any non-incidental way—relate to the movement of property by rail, they are preempted by the ICCTA.  Further, the court held that the district court properly determined that the Anti-Injunction Act does not bar Union Pacific from seeking declaratory relief. View "Union Pac. RR v. City of Palestine" on Justia Law

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Fountain of praise, a church, leased space to Central Care Integrated Health Services. Shortly after the execution of the lease, the relationship soured when the parties disagreed on the frequency and amount of rent payments. Eventually, Fountain of Praise terminated the lease and successfully evicted Central Care from the premises.Subsequently, Central Care filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. Central Care then sued Fountain of Praise in state court, claiming breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Fountain of Praise then removed the case to bankruptcy court as an adversary proceeding. The bankruptcy court entered judgment in favor of Fountain of Praise, finding that any breach was excusable due to Central Care's failure to make timely rent payments and that Central Care lacked the requisite interest in the property for an unjust enrichment claim.Central Care appealed, and the district court judge assigned to the case reassigned the case to a magistrate judge who affirmed the bankruptcy court's judgment.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit vacated the magistrate judge's order, finding that the district court improperly authorized referral of the appeal from a bankruptcy court decision to a magistrate judge. Under 28 U.S.C. Section 158, appeals from a bankruptcy court must be heard either by the district court or a panel of bankruptcy court judges. View "South Central v. Oak Baptist" on Justia Law

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Triller Inc., a social media company was being sold to a group of owners, including Carnegie Technologies, Inc. Prior to the sale, Triller executed a promissory note in favor of Carnegie and then immediately assigned the note to a group of “legacy” owners—including Carnegie—as part of the deal’s closing. After the note was defaulted, Carnegie sued Triller to collect the amounts due. Triller claimed that it had no obligations under the note because it had been assigned, resulting in novation. The district court rejected Triller's novation defense and Triller appealed.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that the plain meaning of the agreement was silent on the extinction of any obligation between Triller and Carnegie. The laws of both California and Texas require clear evidence illustrating the parties' intent to replace an earlier agreement, and the agreement's merger clause precludes evidence of a contemporaneous or earlier agreement. Thus, the court held that Triller failed to raise an issue of material fact regarding whether its obligations under the note were extinguished. View "Carnegie Technologies. v. Triller" on Justia Law

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American Express National Bank (“AmEx”) filed suit for breach of contract in Mississippi state court to recover $2,855.74 of unpaid credit card debt incurred on Plaintiff's account. Plaintiff contended an unknown person incurred this debt fraudulently. Plaintiff then filed Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) claims against AmEx and other defendants in Mississippi state court. The district court denied AmEx’s motion to compel arbitration.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the decision of the district court and remanded for reconsideration in the first instance in light of Forby v. One Techs., L.P and Morgan v. Sundance, Inc. The court held that these cases were decided on the same day and after the district court’s ruling. Forby clarified the test for waiver by a party of the right to compel arbitration and reiterated that waiver analysis occurs on a claim-by-claim basis. In addition, Morgan addressed this and other sister circuits’ tests for waiver by a party of the right to compel arbitration. The court explained that although it can apply subsequent precedent to cases before it, “[a]s a court for review of errors, we are not to decide facts or make legal conclusions in the first instance." Thus, the court’s task is to review the actions of a trial court for claimed errors. View "Barnett v. American Express National" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff took out a home equity loan on a house in Texas (“Property”). Deutsche Bank National Trust Company (“Deutsche Bank”) is the trustee of the loan. Deutsche Bank sought a non-judicial foreclosure order on the Property.   Plaintiff sued Deutsche Bank in Texas state court, alleging violations of the Texas Debt Collection Act (“TDCA”), breach of the common-law duty of cooperation, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Despite the stipulation, Deutsche Bank removed the case to federal district court. Plaintiff then moved to remand the case back to Texas state court because, in his view, the amount in controversy could not exceed the stipulated maximum of $74,500. The district court denied Plaintiff’s motion to remand.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and concluded that the district court erred in denying Plaintiff’s motion to remand, and it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction when it entered final judgment. The court reasoned that Deutsche Bank failed to establish that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional floor of $75,000.   The court first noted that the bank points out that Plaintiff’s suit requested relief which might be read to suggest Plaintiff also sought injunctive relief. But the bank makes that argument only to establish that Plaintiff’s initial pleading seeks nonmonetary relief not to establish that the requested nonmonetary relief put the house in controversy. Whatever the merit of that latter contention might otherwise be, the court held that Deutsche Bank forfeited it. Moreover, the mere fact that Plaintiff pleaded a demand for specific damages cannot support bad faith. View "Durbois v. Deutsche Bank Ntl Trust" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff experienced financial difficulties and applied for a loan modification. In response, CitiMortgage mailed Plaintiff an offer to participate in a Trial Period Plan (“TPP”). The TPP provided that “the terms of your  TPP are effective on the day you make your first trial period payment, provided you have paid it on or before the last day of [January 2019].” Plaintiff effectively accepted the terms of the TPP when he made the first trial period payment of $1,293.66. CitiMortgage sent him a letter informing him that he was “ineligible” for the loan modification and then posted Plaintiff’s property for foreclosure.   Plaintiff filed suit against CitiMortgage in state court, asserting claims for breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment to CitiMortgage concluding that Plaintiff failed to comply with the TPP’s payment deadlines.   The Fifth Circuit reversed finding that Plaintiff met his obligations under the TPP by making timely payments. CitiMortgage, by contrast, violated its obligations by refusing to grant the permanent loan modification and proceeding with foreclosure. The court explained that the TPP establishes a grace period. It accepts payment so long as it is made “in the month in which it is due.” Neither the TPP nor the parties use the term “grace period” to describe this language. But that is plainly what the text contemplates. And no one disputes that Plaintiff’s payments comply with the governing grace periods. CitiMortgage has offered no reason why favoring the monthly deadlines and ignoring the grace period would “do the least damage” to the text of the TPP. View "Burbridge v. CitiMortgage" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two sisters, and a family friend own a large farm in north Louisiana. The farm sits atop the storied Haynesville Shale. A bank’s landman who was managing the sisters’ interests extended a mineral lease for only a tenth of the farm. The landman had misread the extension, which covered the whole farm. Within months, advances in drilling technology would open up the Haynesville Shale. Lease bonuses soared. But the faulty extension clouded the sisters’ farm.   Plaintiffs sued the bank for breach of contract. The district court found the landman violated the standards of his profession by extending the entire lease. But the court ruled this was a “mistake in judgment” under the bank’s contract with the sisters, shielding the bank from liability. It also ruled the mistake was not gross fault, which a Louisiana contract cannot exculpate.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. Then court explained that the landman did not make a mistake in judgment, but a mistake pure and simple. He misread the extension. The contract’s exculpatory clause does not cover this kind of error, and so the court reversed the dismissal of the sisters’ claims. The court remanded as to damages. The extension stuck the sisters with a lower royalty rate than they would have gotten otherwise. But the parties’ experts disagree over whether the differing rates would make any economic difference. The district court did not resolve this technical, fact-bound question. View "Franklin v. Regions Bank" on Justia Law