Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
STARZ ENTERTAINMENT, LLC V. MGM DOMESTIC TELEVISION DISTR.
Starz Entertainment LLC (Starz) entered into two licensing agreements with MGM Domestic Television Distribution LLC (MGM). Starz sued MGM in May 2020, asserting 340 claims of direct copyright infringement, 340 claims of contributory copyright infringement, 340 claims of vicarious copyright infringement, one claim of breach of contract, and one claim of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. MGM moved for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that many of Starz’s copyright infringement claims are barred by the Supreme Court’s decision in Petrella. The district court concluded that Petrella left unaffected the discovery rule—that under the Copyright Act there exists “a three-year damages bar [under Section 507(b)] except when the plaintiff reasonably was not aware of the infringements at the time they occurred.” The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial. The court wrote that generally, a copyright claim accrues when the infringement occurs. The court held that Petrella did not do away with the discovery rule, under which a claim alternatively accrues when the copyright holder knows or reasonably should know that an infringement occurred. The court held that the discovery rule allows copyright holders to recover damages for all infringing acts that occurred before they knew or reasonably should have known of the infringing incidents, and the three-year limitations period runs from the date the claim accrued. The court held that the district court correctly applied the discovery rule, thus Plaintiff was not barred from seeking damages for all acts of infringement. View "STARZ ENTERTAINMENT, LLC V. MGM DOMESTIC TELEVISION DISTR." on Justia Law
ANDREW ROLEY V. GOOGLE LLC
Google sent an email to users, such as Plaintiff, who had contributed photos to Google maps but had not yet joined the company’s Local Guides Program, inviting them to join the program. Plaintiff joined the Local Guides program and claimed his terabyte of free Google Drive storage. Google advised him the benefit was for two years, and Plaintiff contended that when he read the initial email, he assumed Google was offering a lifetime benefit. In ruling on Google’s summary judgment motion, the district court considered three documents – the photo impact email, the enrollment page, and the Program Rules - and concluded that they did not constitute a unilateral contract offer for one terabyte of free Google Drive storage for life. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment. The court explained that advertisements are not typically understood as offers, but that rule includes an exception for offers of a reward. The operative question under California law is “whether the advertiser, in clear and positive terms, promised to render performance in exchange for something requested by the advertiser, and whether the recipient of the advertisement reasonably might have concluded that by acting in accordance with the request a contract would be formed.” The court reasoned that the Google documents at issue neither informed users how they might conclude the bargain, nor invited the performance of a specific act, leaving nothing for negotiation. The court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to Google on Plaintiff’s conversion and breach of contract claims. View "ANDREW ROLEY V. GOOGLE LLC" on Justia Law
HIQ LABS, INC. V. LINKEDIN CORPORATION
LinkedIn Corp. sent hiQ Labs, Inc. ("hiQ") a cease-and-desist letter, asserting that hiQ violated LinkedIn’s User Agreement. LinkedIn asserted that if hiQ accessed LinkedIn’s data in the future, it would be violating state and federal law, including the CFAA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) and the California common law of trespass.HiQ sought injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that LinkedIn could not lawfully invoke the CFAA, the DMCA, California Penal Code Sec. 502(c), or the common law of trespass against it. LinkedIn appealed the district court’s decision ordering LinkedIn to withdraw its cease-and-desist letter, to remove any existing technical barriers to hiQ’s access to public profiles, and to refrain from putting in place any legal or technical measures with the effect of blocking hiQ’s access to public profiles.The court affirmed the district court, finding that hiQ currently had no viable way to remain in business other than using LinkedIn public profile data for its “Keeper” and “Skill Mapper” analytics services and that hiQ demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction. The court found that the district court properly determined that the balance of hardships tipped in hiQ’s favor. The court concluded that hiQ showed a sufficient likelihood of establishing the elements of its claim for contract interference, and it raised a question on the merits of LinkedIn’s affirmative justification defense. Finally, the court found that the district court properly determined that the public interest favored hiQ’s position. View "HIQ LABS, INC. V. LINKEDIN CORPORATION" on Justia Law
DANIEL BERMAN V. FREEDOM FINANCIAL NETWORK LLC
Plaintiffs used the defendants’ websites but did not see a notice stating, “I understand and agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes mandatory arbitration.” When a dispute arose, defendants moved to compel arbitration, arguing that plaintiffs’ use of the website signified their agreement to the mandatory arbitration provision found in the hyperlinked terms.The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiffs did not unambiguously manifest their assent to the terms and conditions when navigating through the websites. As a result, they never entered into a binding agreement to arbitrate their dispute, as required under the Federal Arbitration Act. The panel explained that the courts have routinely enforced “clickwrap” agreements, which present users with specified contractual terms on a pop-up screen requiring users to check a box explicitly stating “I agree” to proceed. However, courts are more reluctant to enforce browsewrap agreements, which provides notice only after users click a hyperlink.Finally, the panel held that the district court properly exercised its discretion in denying the defendants’ motion for reconsideration based on deposition testimony taken two months prior to the district court’s ruling on the motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs did not unambiguously manifest their assent to the terms and conditions when navigating the website. Thus, they never entered into a binding agreement to arbitrate. The court affirmed the district court’s order denying the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration. View "DANIEL BERMAN V. FREEDOM FINANCIAL NETWORK LLC" on Justia Law
American National Property & Casualty Co. v. Gardineer
Gardineer was involved in an automobile accident. She sued the other driver, Lynette Hill, and the vehicle owner, Dennis Hill (Lynette’s father-in-law). Dennis had both a primary insurance policy and an umbrella policy with ANPAC. After Dennis’s death, the parties reached a settlement wherein ANPAC paid Gardineer the policy limit of Dennis’s automobile insurance policy. Gardineer reserved the right to assert that ANPAC had a duty to indemnify Hill under Dennis’s umbrellas policy for Hill’s liability. ANPAC sought a declaration that it had no duty to indemnify Hill under the umbrella policy.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of ANPAC. The umbrella policy, by its plain and unambiguous terms, did not provide coverage for Lynettel’s liability arising from her use of Dennis’s vehicle. The term “insured” meant Dennis, his wife, and any “relative” – defined as a related person living in the household. Lynette did not reside in Dennis’s household; she was not a “relative” and not an “insured” under the policy. View "American National Property & Casualty Co. v. Gardineer" on Justia Law
Ngo v. BMW of North America, LLC
Ngo purchased a BMW. The dealership financed Ngo’s purchase; the purchase agreement contained an arbitration clause. As a result of alleged defects with the car, Ngo sued BMW, the manufacturer, which was not a signatory to the purchase agreement. BMW moved to compel arbitration. The district court granted the motion, finding BMW to be a third-party beneficiary.The Ninth Circuit reversed. Under California law, a nonsignatory is a third-party beneficiary only to a contract made expressly for its benefit. Any benefit that BMW might receive from the clause was peripheral and indirect because it was predicated on the decisions of others to arbitrate. The purchase agreement was drafted with the primary "motivating purpose" of securing benefits for the contracting parties; third parties were not the purposeful beneficiaries of that undertaking. Nothing in the contract evinced any intention that the arbitration clause should apply to BMW. The parties easily could have indicated that the contract was intended to benefit BMW but did not do so. The court declined to apply equitable estoppel to compel arbitration. Ngo did not allege any “concerted misconduct.” BMW was mistaken that, under the Song-Beverley and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Acts, Ngo’s claims were inextricably intertwined with the terms of the purchase agreement. View "Ngo v. BMW of North America, LLC" on Justia Law
BladeRoom Group Ltd. v. Emerson Electric Co.
The Ninth Circuit amended the opinion and concurrence filed on August 30, 2021, denied a petition for panel rehearing, and denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc. The panel held that the district court erroneously interpreted a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and reversed the district court's order granting a motion in limine as it related to the twelfth paragraph of the NDA; vacated the district court's judgment and post-verdict orders; and vacated the orders awarding attorneys' and expert witness fees.The panel concluded that a reasonable person in the parties' situation would have read the NDA and understood that the confidentiality obligations terminated after two years. The panel treated the district court’s error as an error of jury instruction, and held that the district court prejudiced Emerson when the jury made its breach of contract, misappropriation, and damage findings. The panel addressed a number of issues for consideration on the awards of damages and prejudgment interest should they be determined after a new trial. View "BladeRoom Group Ltd. v. Emerson Electric Co." on Justia Law
Widjaja v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.
Plaintiff filed suit under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) against JPMorgan Chase Bank, alleging that she was the victim of unauthorized electronic fund transfers from her checking account at Chase. Chase reimbursed plaintiff for some of those losses, but refused to repay $300,000 of the funds stolen from her account. The district court dismissed plaintiff's complaint at the pleading stage on the ground that her lengthy delay in reporting the unauthorized withdrawals to Chase barred her claims as a matter of law.The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court misinterpreted the relevant provision of the EFTA and reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's EFTA claim. The panel concluded that, under 15 U.S.C. 1693g(a), a consumer may be held liable for unauthorized transfers occurring after the 60-day period only if the bank establishes that those transfers "would not have occurred but for the failure of the consumer" to timely report the earlier unauthorized transfer reflected on her bank statement. In this case, plaintiff met her pleading burden by alleging facts plausibly suggesting that even if she had reported an unauthorized transfer within the 60-day period, the subsequent unauthorized transfers for which she sought reimbursement would still have occurred. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's state law claims, concluding that plaintiff's claim for breach of contract failed because a Privacy Notice appended to her Deposit Account Agreement did not impose any substantive duties on Chase. Furthermore, plaintiff's claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing failed because the Deposit Account Agreement expressly permitted Chase to close plaintiff’s accounts. View "Widjaja v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Rattagan v. Uber Technologies, Inc.
Uber’s wholly-owned Dutch subsidiaries retained Rattagan, an Argentinian attorney, to serve as their legal representative in Buenos Aires in connection with a new Uber subsidiary in Argentina. Uber representatives from San Francisco allegedly assumed responsibility for communicating with Rattagan. According to Rattagan, Uber launched its platform in Argentina before its subsidiary was registered with the proper tax authority, despite knowing that Rattagan, as the entities’ legal representative, could be subject to personal liability for Uber’s violations of Argentine law. Law enforcement authorities raided Rattagan’s office and the homes of his business colleagues; his offices were surrounded by protestors and he received negative press. Rattagan later was charged with aggravated tax evasion for his perceived involvement with the Uber launch.Rattagan sued for negligence, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraudulent concealment, and aiding and abetting fraudulent concealment. Applying California law, the district court dismissed, as time-barred, Rattagan’s negligence and breach of the implied covenant claims, and held that the fraudulent concealment claims were foreclosed by the economic loss rule, which prevents a party to a contract from recovering economic damages resulting from breach of contract under tort theories. The Ninth Circuit noted that Rattagan’s appeal hinges on whether fraudulent concealment claims are exempt from California’s economic loss rule and certified that question to the California Supreme Court. View "Rattagan v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law
Harris v. County of Orange
In 1993, the County and the Orange County Employee Retirement System (OCERS) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), allowing the County to access surplus investment earnings controlled by OCERS and depositing a portion of the surplus into an account to pay for county retirees' health insurance. The county adopted the Retiree Medical Plan, funded by those investment earnings and mandatory employee deductions. The Plan explicitly provided that it did not create any vested rights. The labor unions then entered into MOUs, requiring the county to administer the Plan and that retirees receive a Medical Insurance Grant. In 1993-2007, retired employees received a monthly grant benefit to defray the cost of health insurance. In 2004, the county negotiated with its unions to restructure the underfunded program, reducing benefits for retirees.Plaintiffs filed suit. The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the county. The 1993 Plan explicitly provided that it did not create any vested right to benefits. The Plan was adopted by resolution and became law with respect to Grant Benefits, part of the MOUs. The MOUs expired on their own terms by a specific date. Absent express language providing that the Grant Benefits vested, the right to the benefits expired when the MOUs expired. The Plan was not unilaterally imposed on the unions and their employees without collective bargaining; the unions executed MOUs adopting the Plan. The court rejected an assertion that the Grant Benefit was deferred compensation and vested upon retirement, similar to pension benefits. View "Harris v. County of Orange" on Justia Law