Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
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The case involves Ángel Cruz-Agosto, who was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm following a guilty plea. Cruz-Agosto was arrested after police officers observed him pull a pistol from his waistband and drop it on the floor of his vehicle. At the time of his arrest, Cruz-Agosto was serving a term of federal supervised release. He entered into a plea agreement with the government, which calculated a Total Offense Level of nineteen and agreed to jointly recommend a sentence of thirty-seven months' imprisonment.The district court, however, found that the recommended sentence did not reflect the seriousness of the offense and sentenced Cruz-Agosto to seventy-one months' imprisonment, followed by a three-year term of supervised release. The court also held a sentencing hearing for the revocation of Cruz-Agosto's supervised release, sentencing him to an additional eighteen months' imprisonment to be served consecutively.Cruz-Agosto appealed his sentences, focusing on an alleged breach of the plea agreement by the prosecutor at sentencing. He argued that the government failed to argue for a concurrent sentence or a maximum of a four-month consecutive sentence on the revocation, and failed to correct a perceived error made by the district court.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the sentences given by the district court. The court found that the government did not breach the plea agreement, as it had fulfilled its obligation to jointly recommend a sentence of thirty-seven months' imprisonment. The court also found that Cruz-Agosto failed to show that any alleged error by the government affected his substantial rights or the outcome of the proceedings. View "United States v. Cruz-Agosto" on Justia Law

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The case involves Alejandro Cortés-López, who was serving a 24-month prison term after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Cortés-López had entered into a plea agreement with the government, admitting to a fraudulent financial scheme that solicited residents in Puerto Rico to invest in short-term, high-interest loans in the Dominican Republic. The plea agreement stipulated a total offense level (TOL) of 18, which, combined with a criminal history category of I, suggested a guidelines sentencing range (GSR) of 27-33 months' imprisonment. However, both parties agreed to jointly request a variant sentence of 24 months of probation.The Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) calculated a higher TOL due to the financial fraud scheme resulting in more than $5.4 million in losses to the investors. Cortés-López objected to these enhancements, but the probation office maintained that the higher loss amount and additional enhancement were correct. At the sentencing hearing, the government acknowledged the PSR's calculation but stated it was standing by its plea agreement recommendation of 24 months of probation. The district court, however, imposed a sentence of 24 months' imprisonment, followed by 3 years of supervised release and $5.4 million in restitution.Cortés-López appealed, arguing that the government breached the plea agreement by supporting the higher TOL calculated in the PSR and failing to advocate meaningfully for the agreed-upon 24-month probation sentence. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit agreed, finding that the government's conduct at the sentencing hearing was a breach of the plea agreement. The court vacated Cortés-López's sentence and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "United States v. Cortes-Lopez" on Justia Law

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Frederic P. Zotos, an attorney residing in Cohasset, Massachusetts, filed a qui tam complaint against the Town of Hingham and several of its officials. Zotos alleged that the town and its officials posted speed limit signs and advisory speed plaques that did not comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations. He further claimed that the town applied for and received reimbursements for these signs and plaques from both the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Zotos asserted that the town fraudulently induced the federal government to pay it roughly $3,300,000 and the Commonwealth to pay it approximately $7,300,000.The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed Zotos's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court concluded that the qui tam action was not barred by either claim or issue preclusion. However, it found that Zotos's claims fell short of the False Claims Act (FCA) and Massachusetts False Claims Act's (MFCA) requirements. Specifically, it ruled that Zotos failed to sufficiently plead that the alleged misrepresentations were material to the federal government's and the Commonwealth's respective decisions.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that Zotos's complaint did not adequately allege that the defendants' purported misrepresentations were material. It noted that the essence of the bargain under the Federal-Aid Highway Program (FAHP) and the Chapter 90 program was that the defendants incurred permissible costs on projects that were duly reimbursed. The court concluded that Zotos's allegations amounted to ancillary violations that, without more, were insufficient to establish materiality. View "United States ex rel. Zotos v. Town of Hingham" on Justia Law

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In this case, decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the dispute involved Aeroballoon USA, Inc., and its owner Douglas Hase (collectively, Aeroballoon/Hase), and Jiajing (Beijing) Tourism Co., Ltd. (Jiajing). In 2016, Jiajing contracted Aeroballoon for two tethered helium balloons at a total price of $1.8 million. Despite Jiajing making regular payments totaling $1,018,940, Aeroballoon failed to deliver the balloons. An arbitration panel awarded Jiajing $1,410,739.01 plus interest for Aeroballoon's breach of contract. Following the award, Hase dissolved Aeroballoon and Jiajing subsequently filed a complaint seeking enforcement of the arbitration award.The case focused on two counts: fraudulent transfers in violation of the Massachusetts Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA) and unfair business practices under Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts General Laws. The jury awarded Jiajing $1.6 million for each count. The district court later reduced the damages to $1.113 million for each count, a decision unchallenged by either party.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that Aeroballoon had engaged in fraudulent transfers of at least $1.113 million. The court further held that even a single fraudulent transfer is sufficient to create liability under Chapter 93A, thereby affirming the verdict on the claim of unfair business practices. The court also awarded costs to Jiajing. View "Jiajing (Beijing) Tourism Co. Ltd. v. AeroBalloon USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Paulo Trindade, a former employee of Grove Services, Inc., sued his previous employer for breach of contract and violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act, claiming he had been underpaid on his sales commission compensation for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016. Following a bench trial, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled in part for Trindade and in part for Grove, awarding Trindade $330,597 in damages. Both parties appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court's judgment. The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court's conclusion that Trindade's amended complaint, which included a claim for unpaid wages for 2016, related back to his original complaint, making the claim timely under Massachusetts law. The Court of Appeals also concluded that the district court was correct in its decision to award the damages it did, including an amount for the late payment and underpayment of Trindade's 2016 commission. View "Trindade v. Grove Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a district court's decision concerning a wage dispute between an employee and his former employer. The employee, Paulo Trindade, claimed that his former employer, Grove Services, Inc., breached their contract and violated the Massachusetts Wage Act by short-changing him on his sales commission compensation. Grove Services challenged the timeliness of Trindade's Wage Act claim relating to the 2016 commission, but the court agreed with the district court that the claim related back to his original complaint, making it timely. The First Circuit also upheld the district court's damages award. Trindade was awarded $330,597 in damages, which included compensation for late and unpaid wages for the 2016 commission, subject to mandatory trebling under the Wage Act, and damages for the 2014 breach of contract. View "Trindade v. Grove Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, Defendant-Appellee Martin Andersson purchased an insurance policy for his vessel from Plaintiff-Appellant Great Lakes Insurance SE. The vessel ran aground off the coast of the Dominican Republic, and Great Lakes brought a declaratory judgment action to determine coverage under the policy. Andersson filed counterclaims for breach of contract and equitable estoppel. Great Lakes' motion for summary judgment was denied, and Andersson was granted partial summary judgment on his breach of contract claim. Great Lakes appealed, claiming the district court erred in refusing to apply the policy's definition of seaworthiness.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that under the absolute implied warranty of seaworthiness, the insured vessel must be seaworthy at the policy's inception, and if not, the policy is void. The court affirmed the district court's ruling, stating that Great Lakes' argument that the absolute implied warranty required the vessel to carry up-to-date charts for all geographic areas covered by the policy in order to be considered seaworthy was unsupported by admiralty case law and was unreasonable.Additionally, the court held that Great Lakes' argument that the express terms of the policy required updated paper charts for every location that could be navigated under the entirety of the policy coverage area was unsupported by the express language of the policy itself. The court found no precedent supporting the claim that updated paper charts for every location covered by the policy were required to be onboard the vessel at the inception of the policy. As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision in favor of Andersson. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Andersson" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Gibson Foundation, a charitable arm of Gibson Brands, sued Rob Norris and The Piano Mill Group, alleging that they breached a contract and bailment when they refused to return a piano that had been used by entertainer Liberace, upon Gibson Foundation's request. The piano was initially transferred from Gibson Brands to Norris and Piano Mill. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit concluded that the breach-of-bailment claim was not time-barred, reversing the lower court's decision. The court explained that a reasonable juror could find that Gibson Brands, the original owner of the piano, and Norris and Piano Mill had a mutual agreement where Gibson Brands would avoid storage costs by leaving the piano with Norris and Piano Mill, who would benefit from using the piano for promotional opportunities. Therefore, the six-year statute of limitations for certain contract claims applied, rather than the three-year limit for tort claims. However, the court affirmed the lower court's decision that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Gibson Foundation, or its predecessor in title, Gibson Brands, owned the piano in question, which is necessary to establish a valid contract or bailment. The court also affirmed the lower court's denial of summary judgment to Gibson Foundation on the breach of contract claim, noting that a reasonable juror could find that Gibson Brands had given the piano to Norris and Piano Mill as a gift. View "Gibson Foundation, Inc. v. Norris" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing all breach of contract claims brought by Universal Trade-in & Investment Company (UTICo) against Ukraine, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office (UPGO), and the Bureau for Representing Ukrainian Interests in International and Foreign Courts, and denying UTICo's motions to amend the complaint and several of its discovery-related requests, holding that there was no error.UTICo, which was instrumental in helping the defendants investigate and freeze millions of dollars of worldwide assets that had been expatriated from Ukraine, alleged, among other things, that the defendants breached their contractual duties. The district court dismissed the breach of contract claims and entered judgment in favor of the Ukrainian defendants. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in granting summary judgment on the portion of the breach of contract claim related to Swiss assets that were transferred to the Ukrainian treasury; and (2) did not err in denying UTICo's three motions to amend. View "Universal Trading & Investment Co. v. Bureau for Representing Ukrainian Interests" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court concluding that the City of Malden had violated the Massachusetts Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148 (the Wage Act) and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 44, 53C (the Municipal Finance Law), holding that there was no violation of the Wage Act or Municipal Finance Law in this case.Plaintiffs, City of Malden police officers, sued the City, arguing that a term in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that set the hourly rate for police detail work aligned with how they were historically paid and that a ten percent deduction for an administrative fee resulted in a reduction in their wages as set forth in the CBA, in violation of the Wage Act. The district court ruled that the contract term was ambiguous and, after hearing witness testimony, ruled that the City violated the Municipal Finance Law and the Wage Act. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) the contract term was unambiguous in favor of the City; (2) any reduction in the calculated rate still resulted in a higher payout than contemplated in the CBA, and therefore, there was no Wage Act violation; and (3) the district court clearly erred in finding that the City had violated the Municipal Finance Law. View "Owens v. City of Malden" on Justia Law