Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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The United States District Court for the Southern District Court  concluded that Lincoln Life & Annuity Company of New York was not obligated under New York Insurance Law Section 3203(a)(2) to refund a payment that Plaintiff had deposited into a policy account associated with her life insurance policy five months before she died. Because no New York court has  analyzed this provision of New York insurance law, and because insurance policy implicates significant New York State interests, the Second Circuit deferred a decision on this appeal in order to certify the following question to the New York Court of Appeals: Whether a planned payment into an interest-bearing policy account, as part of a universal life insurance policy, constitutes a “premium actually paid for View "Nitkewicz v. Lincoln Life & Annuity Co. of N.Y." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs in two putative class actions took out home mortgage loans from Bank of America, N.A. (“BOA”), one before and the other after the effective date of certain provisions of the DoddFrank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“DoddFrank”). The loan agreements, which were governed by the laws of New York, required Plaintiffs to deposit money in escrow accounts for property taxes and insurance payments for each mortgaged property. When BOA paid no interest on the escrowed amounts, Plaintiffs sued for breach of contract, claiming that they were entitled to interest under New York General Obligations Law Section 5-601, which sets a minimum 2% interest rate on mortgage escrow accounts. BOA moved to dismiss on the ground that GOL Section 5-601 does not apply to mortgage loans made by federally chartered banks because, as applied to such banks, it is preempted by the National Bank Act of 1864 (“NBA”). The district court disagreed and denied the motion.   The Second Circuit reversed and remanded. The court held that (1) New York’s interest-on-escrow law is preempted by the NBA under the “ordinary legal principles of pre-emption,” Barnett Bank of Marion Cnty., N.A. v. Nelson, 517 U.S. 25, 37 (1996), and (2) the Dodd-Frank Act does not change this analysis. GOL Section 5-601 thus did not require BOA to pay a minimum rate of interest, and Plaintiffs have alleged no facts supporting a claim that interest is due. View "Cantero v. Bank of Am., N.A." on Justia Law

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Defendant OneBeacon Insurance Company reinsured one of three excess insurance policies issued by Plaintiff Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company to policyholder ASARCO, Inc. After developing significant potential liability on claims made by asbestos-injured claimants, ASARCO sought coverage from Fireman’s Fund under all of its excess policies. ASARCO and Fireman’s Fund ultimately settled all of the claims under the three policies. Fireman’s Fund allocated a portion of that settlement to the policy reinsured by OneBeacon and sought reinsurance coverage on the allocated sum. OneBeacon rejected Fireman’s Fund’s claim, arguing that the settlement allocation violated the terms of the excess and reinsurance policies. The district court granted summary judgment to Fireman’s Fund, and OneBeacon appealed.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Fireman’s Fund’s allocation of a portion of the settlement to the excess policy reinsured by OneBeacon was not contrary to that policy’s exhaustion requirement or to the terms of the reinsurance policy. OneBeacon is therefore obligated under the reinsurance policy’s follow-the-settlements clause to provide the requested coverage. View "Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. v. OneBeacon Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union (“HVCU”) appealed from the district court’s ruling denying HVCU’s motion to compel arbitration of Plaintiff’s putative class action claims for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and claims under New York law and the Federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act.   The Second Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s ruling, holding that the record was insufficiently developed for the district court to deny the motion to compel arbitration. The court concluded that the record is insufficiently developed on the issue of whether the parties entered into an agreement to arbitrate and, as a consequence, the court wrote it cannot determine the matter of arbitrability “as a matter of law.” Therefore, the court remanded for the district court to consider further evidence or, if necessary, hold a trial.   The court further explained that it was an error for the district court to engage in the inquiry notice analysis based on the copy of the Internet Banking Agreement, which does not depict the content and design of the webpage as seen by users signing up for online banking. The court wrote that on remand, the district court should consider the design and content of the Internet Banking Agreement as it was presented to users in determining whether Plaintiff assented to its terms. And the district court should assess whether the Account Agreements are clearly identified and available to the users based on the court’s precedents. View "Zachman v. Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union" on Justia Law

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A group of public servants who had contacted Navient for help repaying their loans (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a putative class action lawsuit, alleging that Navient had not “lived up to its obligation to help vulnerable borrowers get on the best possible repayment plan and qualify for PSLF.”   Navient moved to dismiss the amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, which the district court granted in part, dismissing all claims except “the claim brought under New York’s General Business Law Section 349”. The district court certified a class for settlement purposes under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) and approved the settlement as “fair, reasonable, adequate,” and “in the best interest of the Settlement Class as a whole.”   Two objectors now appeal that judgment, arguing that the district court erred in certifying the class, approving the settlement, and approving service awards of $15,000 to the named Plaintiffs. The Second Circuit affirmed concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in making any of these determinations. The court explained that here, the amended complaint plausibly alleged that the named Plaintiffs were likely to suffer future harm because they continued to rely on Navient for information about repaying their student loans. At least six of the named Plaintiffs continue to have a relationship with Navient. That is enough to confer standing on the entire class. Further, the court explained individual class members [in fact] retain their right to bring individual lawsuits,” and the settlement does not prevent absent class members from pursuing monetary claims. View "Hyland v. Navient Corporation" on Justia Law

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TIG Insurance Company (“TIG”) appeals from a judgment and order of the district court. TIG asserts that Judge Ramos erred in ordering it to arbitrate a coverage dispute with ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (“Exxon”). Even if it was required to arbitrate, TIG contends that Judge Ramos erred in awarding Exxon prejudgment interest when confirming the arbitral award. After entering judgment, and after TIG had appealed, the district court clerk notified the parties that it was brought to Judge Ramos’s attention that he owned stock in Exxon when he presided over the case. Nothing in the record suggests that Judge Ramos was aware of his conflict at the time he rendered his decisions, and the parties do not suggest otherwise. TIG moved in the district court to vacate the judgment. The case was reassigned to a different judge, who denied the motion to vacate. TIG appealed from that denial as well.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellant’s motion to vacate and the district court’s order compelling arbitration, reversed in part its decision granting Exxon’s request for prejudgment interest, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. The court explained that vacatur was not required because this case presents only questions of law, and a non-conflicted district judge reviewed the case de novo. As to the merits, the court held that the district court did not err in compelling arbitration because the parties were subject to a binding arbitration agreement, but that the district court erred in ordering TIG to pay pre-arbitral-award interest. View "ExxonMobil Oil Corporation v. TIG Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his direct suit against Defendant Brightstar Asia, Ltd. In connection with the sale of his company, Harvestar, to Brightstar Asia, Plaintiff entered into a contract with Brightstar Asia, Harvestar, and his co-founder. The contract provided that conflicted transactions between Brightstar Asia and Harvestar must be on “terms no less favorable to” Harvestar than those of an arms-length transaction. Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that Brightstar Asia engaged in conflicted transactions that rendered his options rights worthless. Those actions, according to Plaintiff, breached both the express terms of the contract and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court dismissed his complaint for raising claims that could be brought only in a derivative suit.   The Second Circuit agreed that Plaintiff can bring a claim for breach of the express conflicted-transactions provision only in a derivative suit. However, the court held that Plaintiff may bring a direct suit for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing because that covenant is based on his individual options rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court’s judgment.   The court explained that the inquiry into whether a claim is direct, and a plaintiff, therefore, has “standing” to bring it, is not an Article III standing inquiry Even if the district court were right that Plaintiff’s claims had to be brought in a derivative suit, it should have dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. View "Miller v. Brightstar Asia, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Bainbridge Fund Ltd. is the beneficial owner of bonds issued by the Republic of Argentina. Argentina defaulted on these bonds back in 2001, but Bainbridge didn’t sue to recover them until 2016. The district court dismissed Bainbridge’s claims as untimely under New York’s six-year statute of limitations for contract actions and the Second Circuit’s nonprecedential decisions. Bainbridge appealed, asking the Second Circuit to reconsider those decisions. Specifically, Bainbridge argues that (1) the twenty-year statute of limitations for recovery on certain bonds under N.Y. C.P.L.R. 34 Section 211(a) applies to its claims against Argentina; and (2) even if the six-year limitations period for contract actions applies, it was tolled under N.Y. Gen. Oblig Law Section 17-101 because Argentina “acknowledged” this debt when it publicly listed the bonds in its quarterly financial statements (the “Quarterly Reports”).   The Second Circuit rejected Plaintiff’s arguments. First, the twenty-year statute of limitations does not apply to claims on Argentine bonds because a foreign sovereign is not a “person” under N.Y. C.P.L.R. Section 211(a). Second, tolling under N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law Section 17-101 is inapplicable because the Quarterly Reports did not “acknowledge” the debt at issue in a way that reflected an intention to pay or seek to influence the bondholders’ behavior. To the contrary, Argentina repeatedly stated that the bonds “may remain in default indefinitely.” Bainbridge’s claims are thus time-barred. View "Bainbridge Fund Ltd. v. The Republic of Argentina" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs the Civil Service Employees Association (“CSEA”) and certain of its officers and retired former members (collectively, “the CSEA Plaintiffs”) brought a breach of contract action and unconstitutional impairment of contractual obligations claim against various New York State officials (collectively, “the State”), based on the State’s 2011 decision to reduce its contributions to certain retired former employees’ health insurance premiums. The district court granted summary judgment to the State on the CSEA Plaintiffs’ Contract Clause claim.After certifying questions to the New York Court of appeals regarding CBA provisions, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment and found that the State’s adjustment of contribution rates for retirees neither breached any of the contractual provisions that the CSEA Plaintiffs identified nor impaired any constitutionally protected contractual obligations. The court reasoned that in light of the answers to its certified questions the CBA provisions that the CSEA Plaintiffs cite unambiguously do not provide a vested lifetime right to fixed contribution rates for retirees, and thus the reduction in contribution rates could not have breached the CBAs. Further, the court held that the State’s adjustment of retirees’ contribution rates did not violate the Contract Clause because the CSEA Plaintiffs lacked any contractual right to a vested lifetime contribution rate. View "Donohue v. The State of New York" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff argued that the insurance contract between the parties was governed by a document provided on January 9, 2014, instead of February 19, 2014; that she is entitled to a judgment based on the insurance company’s miscalculation of her copay; and that even if the February 19 document controls, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 18022(c)(1) (“ACA”), mandates that the insurance company must apply the individual out-of-pocket limit rather than the family out-of-pocket limit; and that the generic-brand cost differential Plaintiff paid for her name-brand medication should count toward her out-of-pocket limit. Plaintiff filed a breach of contract claim under ERISA, and the district court granted Defendant judgment on the breach of contract claims under ERISA.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgments. The court held that the February document governed the relationship between the parties because Plaintiff was on notice as to its terms. Further, Plaintiff is not entitled to a money judgment for her copay because Defendant agreed to pay Plaintiff the copay differential.   The court also found that the ACA does not provide that the annual limitation on cost-sharing applies to all individuals regardless of whether the individual is covered under an individual “self-only” plan or is covered by a plan that is other than self-only for plans effective before 2016. Finally, the court held that the ACA nor the February document required Defendant to apply the brand-generic cost differential costs to Plaintiff’s out-of-pocket limit. View "Jacqueline Fisher v. Aetna Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law