Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Illinois residents Matlin and Waring (Plaintiffs) co-founded Gray Matter and developed products. In 1999, with the company facing failure, Plaintiffs executed a Withdrawal Agreement, assigning Plaintiffs' intellectual property and patent rights to Gray Matter, but entitling them to royalties on sales. In the following years, Plaintiffs frequently brought Gray Matter to arbitration to enforce their royalty rights. In 2002, Gray Matter filed an assignment of the intellectual property rights with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, allegedly without Plaintiff's knowledge, by forging Waring's signature. Gray Matter then sold assets to Swimways, including patent rights. A 2014 binding arbitration determined that Gray Matter did not assign the Withdrawal Agreement to Swimways and that Plaintiffs were owed no further royalties. In 2016, Spin Master acquired Swimways and its intellectual property rights. Plaintiffs sued. Swimways is a Virginia corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia Beach. The Spin Master defendants are Canadian companies with their principal places of business in Toronto. None of the defendants are registered to conduct business in, have employees in, or have registered agents for service of process in Illinois. In response to defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, Plaintiffs' counsel submitted an online purchase receipt from Swimways’ website and a declaration that he purchased and received a patented product in Illinois. The court dismissed, reasoning that Illinois law governed whether it had personal jurisdiction over the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the defendants had insufficient contacts with Illinois to establish either general or specific personal jurisdiction in that state. View "Matlin v. Spin Master Corp." on Justia Law

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Sanchelima contracted to serve as Walker’s exclusive distributor of silos in 13 Latin American countries. Walker agreed not to sell silos directly to third parties in those countries. The contract contained a limited remedies provision and a damages disclaimer and was subject to Wisconsin law. Walker assigned a representative to work with Sanchelima, but otherwise did not market its products in the relevant countries. In 2014, Walker nonetheless sold silos for a factory in Mexico and to a Nicaraguan company. In 2015, Walker sold silos to a Mexican plant; in 2017, Walker sold tanks to a Mexican company. Sanchelima notified Walker that it considered the sales a breach of the agreement, then filed suit. Walker terminated the agreement without cause. Sanchelima sought lost profits of more than $600,000. Walker cited the limited remedies provision as an affirmative defense. It explicitly precludes recovery of “any lost profits … arising out of or in connection with the Distributor Agreement.” The district court held that provision violates Wisconsin’s version of the UCC 2‐719, Wis. Stat. 402.719: Where circumstances cause an exclusive or limited remedy to fail of its essential purpose, remedy may be had as provided in chs. 401 to 411... Consequential damages may be limited or excluded unless the limitation or exclusion is unconscionable. Because the limited remedy provision provided no relief for Walker’s breach of the exclusivity provision, the court held it failed of its essential purpose and awarded Sanchelima $778,306.70. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has interpreted UCC's limited remedy provisions; other states have interpreted those provisions differently. The Seventh Circuit declined to overturn state precedent as inconsistent with modern trends, “until and unless the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides to overturn it.” View "Sanchelima International, Inc. v. Walker Stainless Equipment Co., KKC" on Justia Law

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Kreg, a medical-supply company, contracted with VitalGo, maker of the Total Lift Bed®, for exclusive distribution rights in several markets. A year and a half later, the arrangement soured. VitalGo told Kreg that it had not made the minimum‐purchase commitments required by the contract for Kreg to keep its exclusivity. Kreg thought VitalGo was wrong on the facts and the contract’s requirements. The district court ruled, on summary‐judgment that VitalGo breached the agreement. The damages issue went to a bench trial, despite a last-minute request from VitalGo to have it dismissed on pleading grounds. The court ordered VitalGo to pay Kreg about $1,000,000 in lost‐asset damages and prejudgment interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the district court’s rulings that the agreement allowed Kreg to make minimum-purchase commitments orally; that the minimum‐purchase commitment for the original territories was made in December 2010; that VitalGo breached the agreement by terminating exclusivity in June 2011 and by failing to deliver beds in September 2011; and concerning the foreseeability of damages. View "Kreg Therapeutics, Inc. v. VitalGo, Inc." on Justia Law

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Telecommunications providers Peerless and Verizon entered into an Agreement, providing for lowered rates for certain switching services. If a contractual rate did not apply, Peerless billed Verizon its tariff rates, as filed with the FCC and state public utility commissions. The relationship failed. Verizon withheld payments. Peerless sued Verizon, alleging 12 counts, including breach of the Agreement and breach of tariffs. Verizon alleged that Peerless was an access stimulator and failed to reduce its rates as required by the FCC and that Peerless was billing certain services at inappropriate rates. The district court dismissed four counts and granted Verizon summary judgment on Count X. The district court referred the access stimulation and other counterclaim issues to the FCC under the primary-jurisdiction doctrine and stayed Verizon’s counterclaims. It nonetheless granted Peerless summary judgment on its breach-of-tariff claims, reasoning that Verizon’s defense could be adjudicated separately from the collection action; entered a partial final judgment on the breach-of-tariff claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), finding that it would be “unjust” to make Peerless wait to collect the unpaid bills; and granted Rule 54(b) partial final judgment on claims regarding the breach of the Agreement, reasoning that Verizon had not disputed the breach, only the amount owed. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. Rule 54(b) partial final judgment was improper, given the significant factual overlap with pending claims. A genuine issue of fact persists with respec breach-of-contract claims. View "Peerless Network, Inc. v. MCI Communications Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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ARC, a distributor of compressed gases, sold its assets to American. Because ARC leased asset cylinders to customers, it was not immediately able to identify the number of cylinders included in the purchase; the Agreement estimated 6,500 cylinders and provided that American would hold back $150,000 for 180 days to protect against a shortage of up to 1,200 cylinders, at $125 per cylinder. When American began billing the customers it acquired, it learned that many of them paid only to have cylinders refilled but did not pay rent on the cylinders they used. An audit revealed that ARC owned and transferred 4,663 asset cylinders--1,837 cylinders short of the 6,500 promised. In an ensuing breach of contract suit, ARC argued that American breached the contract because it did not complete its audit within the specified 180-day period. The district court disagreed, concluding that ARC extended that deadline and that, because only 4,663 cylinders were delivered, ARC was never entitled to receive any portion of the Cylinder Deferred Payment. The court granted American’s counterclaim for breach of contract, holding that American was entitled to the entire $150,000 and to recover $125 for each cylinder it failed to receive under the threshold of 5,300. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Because ARC was not entitled to any of the Cylinder Deferred Payment in that it provided less than the 5,300 cylinders, it could not have been damaged by the delay in completing the audit. View "ARC Welding Supply, Co. Inc. v. American Welding & Gas, Inc." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, used car dealerships, were solicited by the defendant to enter into a “Demand Promissory Note and Security Agreement.” The defendant would issue a line of credit for the plaintiffs to access in purchasing used vehicles at automobile auctions. The plaintiffs claim defendant did not pay the auction house at the time that possession was delivered put paid only after it received the title to the vehicles purchased, which could take several weeks, but charged interest from the date of the initial purchase. The plaintiffs filed suit and sought class certification to sue on behalf of all other dealers who were subject to the same Agreement. The district court granted Rule 23(b)(3) class certification as to the breach of contract and substantive RICO claims. Weeks later, defendant filed a Motion to Reconsider, arguing that the plaintiffs had asserted in summary judgment briefing that the Agreements are ambiguous and that under such a theory courts must resort to extrinsic evidence on a plaintiff-by-plaintiff basis to determine intent. The court rescinded class certification. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Neither the categorization of the contract as ambiguous nor the prospect of extrinsic evidence necessarily imperils class status. The Agreement at issue is a standard form contract; there was no claim that its language has different meanings for different signatories. View "Red Barn Motors, Inc. v. NextGear Capital, Inc." on Justia Law

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Until recently, Sexing Tech held a monopoly on the market for sexed cattle semen in the United States. Sperm‐sorting technology separates bull semen into X‐chromosome bearing and Y‐chromosome bearing sperm cells; the resulting “sexed semen” is used to inseminate cows artificially so that dairy farmers can breed only milk‐producing cows. ABS, a bull‐stud operation, sued, alleging that Sexing Tech had unlawfully monopolized the domestic sexed‐semen market in violation of section 2 of the Sherman Act by using its market power to impose coercive contract terms. ABS sought a declaratory judgment proclaiming those contracts invalid, to permit its own entry into that market. Sexing Tech counterclaimed that ABS infringed its patents and breached the contract by misappropriating trade secrets in developing ABS’s competing technology. Three claims went to trial: ABS’s antitrust claim and Sexing Tech’s patent infringement and breach of contract counterclaims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that ABS violated a confidentiality agreement it had with Sexing Tech and that Sexing Tech’s patent was not invalid on obviousness grounds. The jury’s assessments of two of the three patent claims still at issue cannot be reconciled under the rules governing dependent claims and enablement, and so a new trial is necessary on them. View "ABS Global, Inc. v. Inguran, LLC" on Justia Law

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BankDirect and Capital make loans to finance insurance premiums. In 2010, Capital, having exhausted the line of credit, approached BankDirect, which was willing to purchase Capital's loans and pay Capital to service those loans. BankDirect had a right to purchase Capital’s business after five years. If BankDirect did not purchase Capital, either party could extend the term by notice before January 4, 2016; otherwise, the agreement would terminate on January 31, 2016. Any extension could not go beyond June 1, 2018. BankDirect exercised the option in November 2015, but Capital refused to honor it. BankDirect sued. Capital sought an injunction to require BankDirect to continue purchasing loans and paying it to service them. BankDirect continued the arrangement through May 1, 2017, when it seized several Capital accounts and stated that it would no longer buy Capital's loans. BankDirect withdrew its request for specific performance. The district court concluded that Capital was entitled to a preliminary injunction so that the purchase‐and‐service arrangement would continue pending a judgment but did not address the 2018 terminal date or other disputes; failed to enter an injunction as a separate document under Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(d)(1)(C); and did not require Capital to post a bond (Rule 65(c)). The Seventh Circuit declined to address the merits or Rules 65(c) and (d), stating that the “injunction” should have contained a terminal date: June 1, 2018, and remanded for a determination of whether damages are available. View "Bankdirect Capital Finance, Inc. v. Texas Capital Bank National LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2002, in Texas, Dr. Phillips performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy on Bramlett, a 36-year-old mother. While hospitalized, Bramlett suffered internal bleeding and died. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and Dr. Phillips, who held a $200,000 professional liability insurance policy with MedPro. He notified MedPro of the lawsuit. In 2003, the hospital settled with the Bramletts for approximately $2.3 million. The Bramletts wrote to Dr. Phillips’s attorney, Davidson, with a $200,000 Stowers demand; under Texas law, if an insurer rejects a plaintiff's demand that is within the insured’s policy limit and that a reasonably prudent insurer would accept, the insurer will later be liable for any amount awarded over the policy limit. MedPro twice refused to settle. The family won a $14 million verdict. The Supreme Court of Texas capped Dr. Phillips’s liability. The family sued MedPro, which settled. MedPro was insured by AISLIC, which declined to cover MedPro’s settlement. The district court granted AISLIC summary judgment, concluding that coverage was excluded because MedPro should have foreseen the family’s claim. An exclusion precluded coverage for “any claim arising out of any Wrongful Act” which occurred prior to June 30, 2005, if before that date MedPro “knew or could have reasonably foreseen that such Wrongful Act could lead to a claim.” The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, finding genuine issues of material fact regarding whether MedPro’s failure to settle was a Wrongful Act and whether MedPro could have foreseen a "claim" before the malpractice trial. View "Medical Protective Co. of Fort Wayne, Indiana v. American International Specialty Lines Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs hold participating life-insurance policies from State Farm and Country Life that guarantee policyholders annual dividends from their insurers’ surpluses. The insurers decide the dividend amounts. Dissatisfied with their dividends, Plaintiffs filed nearly identical class-action complaints claiming that the dividend provisions in their policies violate the Illinois Insurance Code by failing to include a provision mandated by the Code. Plaintiffs concede that their annual dividends satisfied the terms of their respective policies. In consolidated appeals, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Illinois requires only that life-insurance policies of this type contain a provision for policyholders to participate in their insurers’ surpluses. The policies at issue here contain the required provision and are in compliance, despite allowing insurers discretion to set dividend amounts. View "Anderson v. Country Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law