Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Stone v. Signode Industrial Group LLC
Signode assumed an obligation to pay health-care benefits to a group of retired steelworkers and their families. Signode then exercised its right to terminate the underlying benefits agreement and also stopped providing the promised benefits to the retired steelworkers and their families, despite contractual language providing that benefits would not be “terminated … notwithstanding the expiration” of the underlying agreement. The retirees and the union filed suit under the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s entry of a permanent injunction, ordering Signode to reinstate the benefits. The agreement provided for vested benefits that would survive the agreement’s termination. While there is no longer a presumption in favor of lifetime vesting, the court applied ordinary contract law interpretation rules and concluded that the agreement unambiguously provided retirees with vested lifetime health-care benefits. Even if the agreement were ambiguous, industry usage and the behavior of the parties here provide enough evidence to support vesting such that resolution of any ambiguity in favor of the plaintiffs as a matter of law would still be correct. View "Stone v. Signode Industrial Group LLC" on Justia Law
Villas at Winding Ridge v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.
A storm caused minor hail damage at the Winding Ridge condominium complex located in Indiana, which was not discovered until almost a year later when a contractor inspected the property to estimate the cost of roof replacement. Winding Ridge submitted an insurance claim to State Farm. The parties inspected the property and exchanged estimates but could not reach an agreement. Winding Ridge demanded an appraisal under the insurance policy. State Farm complied. After exchanging competing appraisals, the umpire upon whom both sides agreed issued an award, which became binding. Winding Ridge filed suit alleging breach of contract, bad faith, and promissory estoppel. The Seventh Circuit held that the appraisal clause is unambiguous and enforceable; there is no evidence that State Farm breached the policy or acted in bad faith when resolving the claim. Winding Ridge’s own appraiser found no hail damage to the roofing shingles on 20 buildings. The fact that Winding Ridge independently replaced the shingles on all 33 buildings for $1.5 million while its claim was pending does not obligate State Farm under the policy or mean State Farm breached the policy. There is no evidence that State Farm delayed payment, deceived Winding Ridge, or exercised an unfair advantage to pressure Winding Ridge to settle. View "Villas at Winding Ridge v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Contracts, Insurance Law, Real Estate & Property Law, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
PMT Machinery Sales, Inc. v. Yama Seiki USA, Inc.
Yama Seiki, a California manufacturer of machine tools, sent PMT, a Wisconsin corporation, an exclusive letter of dealership, requiring sales of $1,000,000 or 15 machines in a year and stocking one machine on PMT’s showroom floor. PMT rejected the letter, believing it could not reach the sales requirements. Weeks later, PMT offered to take stock of two machines in exchange for an exclusive-dealer agreement. PMT responded with an application for dealership status and a proposal to negotiate further. Wang, a Yama Seiki manager with whom PMT had negotiated, did not address the offer but responded that he was “not sure if you are aware that you are in ‘exclusive’ status.” PMT never took stock of any machines, but it facilitated sales by soliciting customers, negotiating prices, and connecting customers with Yama Seiki,j who paid Yama Seiki under its usual sales terms. PMT was responsible for installation and warranty work. In 2015-2018, PMT derived 74% of its profits from Yama Seiki sales. More than a year after Wang's “exclusive status” statement, PMT discovered that others were selling Yama Seiki machines in Wisconsin. PMT sued, alleging violations of Wisconsin’s Fair Dealership Law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Yama Seiki. PMT failed to show that it had any dealership agreement with Yama Seiki, much less an exclusive one. PMT never stocked any of its products, collected money for sales, or made more than de minimis use of Yama Seiki’s logos. View "PMT Machinery Sales, Inc. v. Yama Seiki USA, Inc." on Justia Law
Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Co. v. DVO, Inc.
DVO was to design and build an anaerobic digester for WTE to generate electricity from cow manure to be sold to the electric power utility. WTE sued DVO for breach of contract. Crum initially provided a defense under a reservation of rights, but a later advised DVO that it would no longer provide a defense. The court ordered DVO to pay WTE $65,000 in damages and $198,000 in attorney’s fees. DVO’s Crum insurance policies provided commercial general liability, pollution liability, and Errors & Omissions coverage. Under the E&O professional liability coverage, Crum is required to pay “those sums the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as ‘damages’ or ‘cleanup costs’ because of a ‘wrongful act’ to which this insurance applies.” An endorsement provides that the Policy does not apply to claims or damages based upon or arising out of breach of contract. DVO argued that the exclusion was so broad as to render the E&O professional liability coverage illusory. The district court disagreed. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for contract reformation. The exclusion’s language is extremely broad. It includes claims “based upon or arising out of” the contract, thus including a class of claims more expansive than those based upon the contract, rendering the professional liability coverage in the E&O policy illusory. The court considered DVO's reasonable expectations in purchasing E&O coverage to insure against professional malpractice claims. View "Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Co. v. DVO, Inc." on Justia Law
Karma International, LLC v. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC
For the 100th Indianapolis 500 race in 2016, organizers engaged Karma, an event-planning company, to host a ticketed party. The party was a disappointment. Poor ticket sales prevented Karma from covering its expenses. Karma sued the racetrack for breach of contract, accusing it of failing to adequately promote the party. Karma sought $817,500 in damages, a figure apparently gleaned from conversations with Speedway officials who speculated that the party would generate $1 million in gross revenue “from ticket and table sales only.” The Speedway filed a counterclaim alleging that Karma failed to place the promised banner advertisement on Maxim’s website or provide marketing support on Maxim’s social-media channels. Karma is a licensee of Maxim’s, a men’s magazine. The district judge rejected Karma’s claim at summary judgment, ruling that the damages theory rested on speculation. A jury found Karma liable on the counterclaim, awarding $75,000 in damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Karma’s evidence of damages was speculative, so its claim failed under Indiana law. The jury could award objectively foreseeable damages; it didn’t need to hear testimony on the subjective expectations of Speedway officials before awarding damages. View "Karma International, LLC v. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC" on Justia Law
Driveline Systems, LLC v. Arctic Cat, Inc.
Driveline filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Arctic Cat over a supply contract for specially manufactured goods. Certain counts were resolved against Driveline by summary judgment. After a trial, the district court found that Arctic Cat was liable for $182,234.05; Driveline was liable for $163,481.04 on the Counterclaim; and Arctic Cat was due $27,700.50 in prevailing party attorney’s fees and costs. The court entered judgment for Arctic Cat and against Driveline in the amount of $8,947. The Seventh Circuit vacated summary judgment on one count, finding genuine dispute as to material facts. The relationship between the parties was governed by a mosaic of agreements. Factual issues remained concerning whether Arctic Cat’s delay in payment was or was not a breach and the circumstances surrounding Driveline’s suspension of shipments. View "Driveline Systems, LLC v. Arctic Cat, Inc." on Justia Law
Gupta v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC
Gupta joined Morgan Stanley and signed an employment agreement containing an arbitration clause; an employee dispute resolution program (CARE) applied to all U.S. employees. The CARE program did not then require employees to arbitrate employment discrimination claims but stated that the program “may change.” In 2015, Morgan Stanley amended its CARE program to compel arbitration for all employment-related disputes, including discrimination claims, and sent an email to each U.S. employee, with links to the new arbitration agreement and a revised CARE guidebook. The email attached a link to the arbitration agreement opt-out form and set an opt-out deadline, stating that, if the employee did not opt-out, continued employment would reflect that the employee agreed to the arbitration agreement and CARE guidebook and that opting out would not adversely affect employment status. Gupta did not submit an opt-out form or respond to the email. He continued to work at Morgan Stanley for two years until, he alleges, the company forced him to resign because of military leave. Gupta sued for discrimination and retaliation under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301–35. The court agreed with that Illinois law permits an offeror to construe silence as acceptance if circumstances make it reasonable to do so; based on pretrial evidence, Gupta could not dispute he received the email. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order compelling arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, finding the existence of a written agreement to arbitrate, a dispute within the scope of that agreement, and a refusal to arbitrate. View "Gupta v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Arbitration & Mediation, Contracts, Labor & Employment Law, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Sevugan v. Direct Energy Services, LLC
For decades, regulated, vertically-integrated utilities dominated the U.S. electricity market, generating, transmitting, distributing, and collecting payments for electricity. In Illinois that utility was ComEd; its rates are set by the Illinois Commerce Commission. Illinois restructured its electricity market by the Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law of 1997, which allows alternative retail electric suppliers to compete with ComEd, setting their own rates and not regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission. ComEd and alternative suppliers now serve as middlemen, purchasing electricity wholesale from PJM, a regional transmission organization that controls the electric grid covering northern Illinois and several other states, and reselling it to customers. Sevugan contracted with Direct Energy, an alternative supplier, in 2011. In 2013, Sevugan neither re-enrolled nor canceled service, which triggered a “Renewal Clause” with a variable price per kWh. Sevugan sued in 2017, alleging Direct deceived him (and others) with its four-page form contract. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Sevugan’s breach of contract claim, reasoning that Sevugan did not allege facts showing Direct’s rates were not “based on generally prevailing market prices,” or that its “adder,” a discretionary component of the electricity price, was “unreasonable.” View "Sevugan v. Direct Energy Services, LLC" on Justia Law
Milwaukee Center for Independence, Inc. v. Milwaukee Health Care LLC
Under a 2014 agreement, MCFI, a non-profit organization that provides medical care for individuals with brain injuries, would operate a brain-injury center in MHC’s nursing facility. MHC would handle billing and collections for MCFI's services and remit the funds collected to MCFI after taking its cut. MHC instead redirected MCFI’s funds to pay its employees and other creditors. MCFI sued MHC and MHC’s principal, Nicholson. The district court entered summary judgment against MHC for breach of contract and against Nicholson for conversion and civil theft and awarded MCFI over $2 million in damages, interest, and costs against MHC and Nicholson, jointly and severally. It also awarded MCFI over $200,000 in attorney’s fees and costs against Nicholson alone. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. MCFI had an ownership interest in the BIRC Collections. At most MCFI’s acknowledgment of the security interests of MHC’s creditors only estops MCFI from contesting the interests of those creditors; it does not prevent MCFI from asserting its ownership of the property against MHC. The duty to refrain from converting or stealing the BIRC Collections was entirely independent of the contract. It arose from the common law and Wisconsin statutes. Nicholson was personally involved in the wrongful redirection of those funds through the actions of his agent. View "Milwaukee Center for Independence, Inc. v. Milwaukee Health Care LLC" on Justia Law
Emmis Communications Corp. v. Illinois National Insurance Co
Emmis bought a directors-and-officers liability policy covering October 1, 2009 to October 1, 2010, from Chubb Insurance. Emmis later bought, from Illinois National, a policy covering liability from October 1, 2011, to October 1, 2012, with an exclusion for any losses in connection with “Event(s),” which included “[a]ll notices of claim of circumstances as reported” under the Chubb policy. In 2012, Emmis tried to gain control of enough of its shares to go private. Shareholders filed suit to stop Emmis’s effort. Emmis reported the suit to Chubb and also sought coverage under the Illinois National policy. Illinois National refused coverage. Emmis sued, seeking damages for breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The district court granted Emmis summary judgment for breach of contract, rejecting Illinois National’s interpretation of the “as reported” language. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Illinois National’s proposed interpretation is correct. The phrase “as reported” has no discernable temporal limitations. Once Emmis reported a claim to Chubb, at any time, then that claim was “reported” and excluded. View "Emmis Communications Corp. v. Illinois National Insurance Co" on Justia Law