Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Greenbank purchased “Thomas” for $500,000, for use as a competitive showhorse. Greenbank obtained insurance from GA that included coverage for Thomas’s “death” or “authorized humane destruction.” In February 2018, Thomas became sick. Over the next few months, Thomas lost 50 pounds and developed cellulitis in all four legs and uveitis in his eye. In April 2018, Greenbank reported Thomas’s pneumonia to GA. Greenbank's veterinarian informed GA that Thomas “probably” needed to be euthanized. GA retained its own veterinarians. Thomas was transported to its facility, where Dr. MacGillivray advised that it would not be unreasonable to make a euthanasia recommendation but she wanted to try treatment. Greenbank objected, arguing that treatment would destroy Thomas’s future athleticism. After his surgery, Thomas made a "remarkable" recovery. Thomas is still doing well.GA denied coverage for certain treatments and rejected Greenbank’s renewal payment of $14,725.000, citing her failure to provide immediate notice of Thomas’s illness in February 2018. Greenbank argued that GA acted in bad faith by unreasonably withholding consent for authorized humane destruction and that GA’s continued care and control over Thomas after the policy terminated constituted conversion and theft.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her claims. Thomas saw three veterinarians in five months; no veterinarian certified that Thomas needed to be euthanized. Nothing in the contract requires GA to protect Thomas’s use as a show horse. Greenbank never made an unqualified demand for Thomas’s return nor did she establish that any demand would have been futile. View "Greenbank v. Great American Assurance Co." on Justia Law

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Corwell’s insurance broker told him that Coventry would essentially provide free life insurance for a couple of years before an assignment of the policy to those who had funded it from the beginning, at no expense or risk to the insured. In 2006, Corwell, age 78, applied to Sun Life for a $5 million life insurance policy, indicating that his family L.P. would be the primary beneficiary and Corwell would be the owner. The annual premium, $300,000 per year, exceeded Corwell’s income almost every year. Corwell falsely stated that the premiums would not involve premium financing. Sun would not have issued the policy if it had known that Corwell would be using a non-recourse loan to pay the premiums. At the end of the loan’s 30-month term, Coventry notified Corwell that the balance was $569,572; Corwell could either repay it or relinquish the policy. As expected, Corwell relinquished the policy, which the lender sold to Coventry. Sun Life rejected a 2017 death claim and sought a declaratory judgment that the policy was void as an illegal wagering contract, procured for the benefit of strangers who lacked an insurable interest, in violation of Illinois law. The district court granted Sun summary judgment and allowed it to keep almost all of the premiums.The Seventh Circuit affirmed with the exception of part of the premiums. Illinois law looks beyond the form of the transactions and considers the substance to determine whether a purchase was supported by an insurable interest. This funding arrangement was an unlawful wager by strangers on Corwell’s life. View "Sun Life Assurance Company of v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Taizhou, a Chinese manufacturer, entered into a Cooperation Agreement with Z Outdoor, a Wisconsin company owned by Casual Products: Taizhou would manufacture outdoor furniture and other related items for Z Outdoor to sell to customers. Z Outdoor eventually stopped paying Taizhou. The Cornings, on behalf of Z Outdoor, made false statements about future business, forthcoming payments, and causes for the delays. Taizhou continued to fill customer orders without receiving compensation. In 2018, AFG (a Wisconsin LLC also owned by Casual) started submitting purchase orders to Taizhou. AFG never signed the Cooperation Agreement. Taizhou filled the orders and sent AFG invoices. AFG eventually stopped paying Taizhou and made false statements regarding payment delays. The total due from Z Outdoor and AFG accrued to $14 million for purchase orders sent, 2017-2019.The district court entered a default judgment against the corporate defendants on Taizhou's contract claims but ruled against Taizhou on unjust enrichment, fraud, and conversion claims, finding the fraud and conversion claims barred by Wisconsin’s economic loss doctrine and q “mere repackaging of Taizhou’s ‘straightforward breach of contract claim.’” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Any fraud was interwoven with the Cooperation Agreement, so the economic loss doctrine applies. To the extent the damages amounted to lost profits or lost business, those are also economic losses under Wisconsin law. View "Taizhou Yuanda Investment Group Co., Ltd. v. Z Outdoor Living, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Levy, a 37-year-old single mother of two, purchased a 20-year term life insurance policy from West Coast, with a $3 million benefit payable upon her death to her sons. In January 2019, Benita—in deteriorating physical and mental health—missed a payment. Approximately five months later, she died, having never paid the missed premium. West Coast declared the policy forfeited.Levy's sons filed suit, alleging breach of contract and that a late-2018 missed-payment notice failed to comply with the Illinois Insurance Code, which forbids an insurer from canceling a policy within six months of a policyholder’s failure to pay a premium by its due date (calculated to include a 31-day grace period) unless the insurer provided notice stating “that unless such premium or other sums due shall be paid to the company or its agents the policy and all payments thereon will become forfeited and void, except as to the right to a surrender value or paid-up policy as provided for by the policy.” West Coast’s 2018 notice incorporated much of the statutory language. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The Notice adequately alerted policyholders to the consequences of nonpayment; there was no need for the Notice to mention the company’s agents as alternate payees. View "Levy v. West Coast Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting the State's motion to dismiss this action brought by two Illinois counties challenging the 2021 passage of a law prohibiting State agencies and political subdivisions from contracting with the federal government to house immigration detainees, holding that the district court properly dismissed the action for failure to state a claim.In their complaint, Plaintiffs argued that the law at issue was invalid under principles of both both field and conflict preemption and that it violated the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity. The district denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) because it was not preempted by federal immigration statutes the law was not invalid as a matter of field or conflict preemption; and (2) the law did not violate principles of intergovernmental immunity. View "McHenry County v. Raoul" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to Defendants on all claims asserted against them, including misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of an implied contractual obligation to assign patent rights but vacated the judgment awarding attorneys' fees, holding that a reduction in fees was warranted.REXA, Inc. sued Mark Chester and MEA, Inc. for misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of an implied contractual obligation to assign patent rights, alleging that Chester and MEA incorporated and disclosed confidential designs. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding that the district court (1) properly granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants; but (2) abused its discretion in awarding Chester and MEA approximately $2.357 million in attorneys' fees, which they requested as a sanction for REXA's litigation conduct, where the court did not make specific findings about each of REXA's objections to the fee petition. View "REXA, Inc. v. Chester" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding that Plaintiff, a guidance counselor at a Catholic high school, was a minister and that the ministerial exception barred of all her claims against Roncalli High School and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, both federal and state, holding that there was no error.After Plaintiff informed Roncalli's leadership that she was in a same-sex union she was given notice that her employment would not be renewed for the next school year because her conduct violated the terms of her contract. Plaintiff brought this complaint, alleging several claims. The trial court granted summary judgment based on the ministerial exception, grounded in the First Amendment's Religion Clauses, which bars interference with the selection and control of a religious organization's ministers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the Archdiocese was entitled to fire Plaintiff without regard to the substantive rules in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. View "Starkey v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this COVID-19 pandemic-related case, the Seventh Circuit vacated in part the judgment of the district court granting Loyola University of Chicago's motion to dismiss this complaint brought by Plaintiffs, three undergraduate students, for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, holding that Plaintiffs pled enough to withstand dismissal for failure to state a claim and that Plaintiffs were entitled to leave to amend to save their alternative claim for unjust enrichment.As a result of the pandemic, Loyola suspended all in-person instruction during the Spring 2020 semester, curtailed access to campus facilities, and moved all instruction online. Plaintiffs brought a putative class action lawsuit against Loyola, arguing that the decision to shut down Loyola's campus deprived them of promised services, such as in-person instruction and access to on-campus facilities, in exchange for tuition and fees. The district court granted Loyola's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiffs sufficiently pled a claim for breach of an implied contract under Illinois law; and (2) Plaintiffs adequately pled an unjust enrichment claim in the alternative. View "Gociman v. Loyola University of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Allen earned a Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1965 and embarked on a successful career in the aerospace industry. He retired in 2004 and granted a financial power of attorney to his daughter, Key, when he and his wife experienced declining health and he could no longer manage their finances. For several years Key used the power of attorney to make withdrawals from Allen’s investment accounts held by affiliated investment firms (Brown). Five years later Allen revoked the power of attorney and sued Brown, raising contract and fiduciary-duty claims under Maryland law. He alleged that Key’s withdrawals (or some of them) were not to his benefit and that the investment companies should not have honored them.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Maryland Court of Appeals has clarified that a plaintiff may plead a claim for breach of fiduciary duty even when another cause of action (like breach of contract) is available to redress the conduct. . Still, the power of attorney shields Brown from liability for breach of fiduciary duty just as it does for breach of contract. Brown had no fiduciary obligation to refuse to carry out transactions authorized by the power of attorney. View "Allen v. Brown Advisory, LLC" on Justia Law

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Fairway, co-owned by Johnson, who is African-American and Native-American, contracted with FedEx to deliver packages. FedEx later assigned Fairway's contract to another company. Johnson's suit under 42 U.S.C. 1981, alleged racial discrimination and breach of contract. A second complaint was voluntarily dismissed. According to FedEx, an arbitration settlement was reached, under which Johnson released all claims against FedEx. Johnson disputes that she was a party to any settlement.Johnson filed another suit against FedEx, claiming racial discrimination and that FedEx blocked a contract assignment to her as an individual and prevented an assignment to BN, a company of which she was the majority shareholder. The court dismissed her suit, rejecting Johnson’s argument that as Fairway’s business contact, she qualified as a party to the contract. Johnson was granted two weeks to amend her complaint, according to precise directions concerning the need for proof that Johnson asked FedEx to approve an assignment to Johnson. Johnson's amended complaint replaced herself as the plaintiff with a corporation, DJM, asserting she “was to be the majority shareholder” of DJM. The complaint did not allege that FedEx had blocked an attempted assignment to Johnson individually but alleged that FedEx blocked an assignment to DJM.The court dismissed, noting the “four-year statute of limitations for Johnson’s Section 1981 claim ha[d] elapsed.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. “Given this procedural history, the district court could have done more than admonish Johnson.” FedEx could have been awarded its reasonable attorneys’ fees. View "DJM Logistics, Inc. v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc." on Justia Law