Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The case revolves around a dispute between Diamond Transportation Logistics (Diamond) and The Kroger Company (Kroger). In 2010, the two companies entered into a transportation agreement, which was renewed in 2016, for Diamond to transport Kroger's goods. The agreement included an indemnity provision, which allowed Kroger to withhold payments from Diamond for claims against Diamond under certain conditions. In December 2015, a subcontractor of Diamond was involved in a fatal accident while transporting Kroger's goods. The family of the deceased sued both Diamond and Kroger for wrongful death, alleging negligence in Kroger's selection, hiring, and retention of Diamond as a shipper. Kroger demanded Diamond to cover its legal expenses based on the indemnity provision in their agreement. However, Diamond failed to reimburse Kroger, leading Kroger to withhold nearly $1.8 million in shipping payments from Diamond.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, where Kroger filed a counterclaim for breach of the transportation agreement's indemnity provision. The district court ruled in favor of Kroger, awarding it $612,429.45 plus interest. Diamond appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The main issue was whether the indemnity provision's exception for "liability...caused by the sole negligence or willful misconduct of Kroger" relieved Diamond of its obligation. The court held that the exception did not apply in this case because Kroger's liability for the family's negligent selection, hiring, and retention claim was not caused by its "sole negligence." The court reasoned that Diamond's negligence also played a part in Kroger's liability, and therefore, Diamond was required to cover Kroger's costs in settling the family's claim. View "Diamond Transp. Logistics, Inc. v. Kroger Co." on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of bettors who sued Churchill Downs, Inc., and trainers Robert Baffert and Bob Baffert Racing, Inc., after the horse they bet on, Medina Spirit, was disqualified from the 2021 Kentucky Derby due to a failed post-race drug test. The bettors claimed that they would have won their bets under the new order of finish after Medina Spirit's disqualification. However, under Kentucky law, only the first order of finish marked "official" counts for wagering purposes. The plaintiffs brought claims for negligence, breach of contract, violation of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act, and unjust enrichment.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, which granted the defendants' motions to dismiss and denied the plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint. The court found that the plaintiffs' claims were based on the theory that they had "unpaid winning wagers," but under Kentucky law, the first official order of finish is final. Therefore, the plaintiffs' wagers were lost, and the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.The case was then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision, agreeing that the plaintiffs' claims were based on the theory that they had "unpaid winning wagers." However, under Kentucky law, the first official order of finish is final for wagering purposes. Therefore, the plaintiffs' wagers were lost, and the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court also found that the proposed amendment to the complaint did not cure this flaw, so the lower court properly denied leave to amend. View "Mattera v. Baffert" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Firexo Group Limited (FGL), a British company that manufactures fire extinguishers, and Firexo, Inc., a Florida-based company that was created to sell FGL's products in the United States. Scot Smith, a resident of Ohio, purchased 70% of Firexo, Inc. from FGL under a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA). The JVA included a forum-selection clause designating England or Wales as the exclusive jurisdiction for any disputes arising from the agreement. Firexo, Inc., which was not a signatory to the JVA, later sued FGL in an Ohio court over issues with the fire extinguishers. FGL sought to dismiss the case based on the forum-selection clause in the JVA.The district court granted FGL's motion to dismiss, applying the "closely related" doctrine. This doctrine allows a non-signatory to a contract to be bound by a forum-selection clause if the non-signatory is sufficiently closely related to the contract. The district court found that Firexo, Inc. was closely related to the JVA and therefore subject to the forum-selection clause. Firexo, Inc. appealed this decision, arguing that the district court applied the wrong law and analytical approach in determining the applicability of the contract.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed with Firexo, Inc. that the district court had applied the wrong law. The court held that the "closely related" doctrine, a federal common law rule, should not have been used to interpret the JVA's forum-selection clause. Instead, the court should have applied the law specified in the JVA, which was English law. Under English law, contracts do not apply to non-signatories unless certain exceptions apply, none of which were present in this case. Therefore, the forum-selection clause in the JVA did not apply to Firexo, Inc., and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Firexo, Inc. v. Firexo Group Limited" on Justia Law

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Sedric Ward, an Army reservist, worked at the Shelby County Jail. In 2015, the County fired Ward but later entered into a settlement agreement in which Ward released “any and all claims whatsoever” related to his termination. Despite this, Ward later sued the County under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The central issue was whether the settlement agreement effectively released Ward’s claim under the Act.The district court ruled in favor of Ward, asserting that the release’s scope—namely, “any and all claims whatsoever”—did not reach his USERRA claim. The case went to trial, and the jury found in Ward’s favor. The district court eventually ordered the County to pay Ward more than $1.5 million.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagreed with the district court's reasoning. The appellate court found that the release provision in the settlement agreement clearly encompassed Ward’s USERRA claim. However, the court also noted that USERRA imposes a second requirement for the release of a claim under the Act. Specifically, the Act requires that the agreement “establish” rights that are “more beneficial” for the servicemember than the ones he gives up. The court found that whether a particular settlement agreement provides greater benefits than a USERRA claim is for the servicemember to decide. Given the circumstances, the court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Ward’s decision to enter into the agreement reflected a considered decision on his part, or instead that it reflected only desperation. The appellate court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Ward v. Shelby County" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dennis Neate, a former employee of the James B. Oswald Company (Oswald), an insurance firm. Neate left Oswald to work for Hylant Group, Inc., another insurance firm, and some of his clients followed him. Oswald accused Neate of violating his non-solicitation agreement and sued in federal district court. The court issued a preliminary injunction ordering Neate and others to comply with Oswald’s non-solicitation agreement. Neate appealed.Previously, the district court granted a preliminary injunction after an evidentiary hearing. The injunction prohibited Neate and others from violating their agreements with Oswald, retaining or using Oswald's confidential information, and soliciting or accepting business from Oswald's clients. The injunction also required all defendants to return all of Oswald's property.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded the case. The court found that the district court failed to properly apply Ohio law in determining the reasonableness of the non-solicitation agreement. The court also found that the injunction did not meet the specificity requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(d)(1), as it incorporated the non-solicitation agreement by reference. However, the court agreed with the district court that Oswald had shown a likelihood of success on its trade-secrets claims. View "James B. Oswald Co. v. Neate" on Justia Law

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The case involves Century Aluminum Company and its subsidiaries (Century), and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London (Lloyd's). Century uses river barges to transport alumina ore and other materials for its aluminum smelting operations. In 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers closed key locks on the Ohio River, causing Century to seek alternative transportation. Century filed a claim with Lloyd's, its maritime cargo insurance policy provider, for the unanticipated shipping expenses. While Lloyd's paid $1 million under the policy's Extra Expense Clause, it denied coverage for the rest of the claim.The case was first heard by the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Century sought a declaration that its denied claims were covered by the insurance policy and requested damages for Lloyd's alleged breach of contract among other violations of Kentucky insurance law. Lloyd's sought summary judgment, arguing that the policy did not cover the claims. The district court sided with Lloyd's.The appeal was heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Century argued that the policy's All Risks Clause, Risks Covered Clause, Shipping Expenses Clause, and Sue and Labour Clause required Lloyd's to cover the additional shipping expenses. The court rejected these arguments, affirming the district court's ruling. The court held that under the All Risks Clause and Risks Covered Clause, Century's alumina did not suffer any physical loss or damage. As for the Shipping Expenses Clause, it covered the risk of a failed delivery, not an untimely one. Lastly, under the Sue and Labour Clause, Century was required to mitigate Lloyd's exposure under the policy, but it did not obligate Lloyd's to pay anything for reducing losses that fall outside the policy. View "Century Aluminum Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London" on Justia Law

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A medical resident, Dr. Jacquelyn Mares, was dismissed from Wright State University’s (WSU) obstetrics and gynecology residency program due to ongoing complaints and escalating disciplinary actions related to her unprofessional behavior. Following her dismissal, Mares was also terminated from her position at Miami Valley Hospital, where she was employed during her residency. As a result, Mares sued WSU, the hospital, its owner-operator Premier Health Partners, and several WSU employees, alleging violations of her procedural and substantive due process rights, as well as various contract-based state law claims. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.In its ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that WSU did not violate Mares' procedural due process rights when it dismissed her from the residency program. The court found that WSU had followed its internal procedures closely and that Mares was afforded more than enough process. Also, the court held that WSU did not violate Mares' substantive due process rights. It determined that WSU's decision to dismiss her was not arbitrary or capricious, nor was it conscience-shocking. Finally, the court held that Miami Valley Hospital did not breach its contractual duties when it terminated Mares after her dismissal from WSU’s residency program. The court concluded that the hospital acted within the scope of the employment contract. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s decision to grant the defendants' summary judgment. View "Mares v. Miami Valley Hospital" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") brought a lawsuit against Michael Angelo, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). The lawsuit claimed that Angelo submitted fraudulent bills to the insurance company. Angelo later filed a separate action against State Farm under the False Claims Act ("FCA"), alleging that the insurance company wrongfully avoided paying medical benefits. This action was unknown to State Farm at the time because FCA complaints are required to be filed under seal.The two parties entered into a settlement agreement in February 2021, resolving the RICO action. As part of the agreement, Angelo agreed to take all necessary steps to dismiss certain claims against State Farm. After the settlement agreement was signed, the FCA complaint was unsealed and served on State Farm. State Farm then sought to enforce the settlement agreement, arguing that it required Angelo to dismiss the FCA action as well.Angelo argued that the settlement agreement did not apply to the FCA action because the FCA claims were unrelated to the settled RICO claims. However, the district court disagreed and ordered Angelo to seek the government's consent to dismiss his FCA claims against State Farm. Angelo appealed this decision, claiming it violated his First Amendment rights and the FCA.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, stating that the settlement agreement clearly encompassed the FCA action. The court also held that the district court had not erred in requiring Angelo to seek the government's consent to dismiss his FCA claims. Angelo's First Amendment claim was deemed forfeited as it was raised for the first time in a motion for reconsideration and was thus untimely. View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Angelo" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals considered an indemnification case between Nissan, an automobile manufacturer, and Continental, a brake parts supplier. Nissan sought indemnification from Continental for a $24 million jury award and $6 million in attorney fees and costs resulting from a products liability lawsuit in California. The lawsuit arose after an accident involving a Nissan vehicle, with the jury finding that the design of the vehicle’s braking system caused harm to the plaintiffs. Nissan argued that a provision in their contract with Continental obligated Continental to indemnify them for the jury award and litigation costs. Both the district court and the Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the contract required Nissan to show that a defect in a Continental-supplied part caused the injury, which Nissan failed to do. The Appeals Court affirmed the district court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Continental. View "Nissan North America, Inc. v. Continental Automotive Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Brandenburg Telephone Company and Sprint Communications were in disagreement over the interest rate on an award that Sprint Communications conceded it owed to Brandenburg Telephone Company. The $2.2 million award was for unpaid fees that Sprint Communications owed for connecting local telephone calls. The dispute centered on Brandenburg's filed utility tariff which set the interest rate. Sprint argued that the tariff set the rate at 8%, and thus owed $4.3 million in interest, while Brandenburg claimed the tariff imposed a rate of 10.66%, which would result in $7.1 million in interest. The district court ruled in favor of Sprint, and the appeals court affirmed this decision.The court reasoned that the 8% rate set by the Kentucky usury statute was applicable. The court noted that while Brandenburg's tariff offered two alternatives for late payment penalty: (1) the highest interest rate (in decimal value) which may be levied by law for commercial transactions, or (2) a rate of .000292 per day (which works out to an annualized rate of 10.66%); the court interpreted the phrase "levied by law for commercial transactions" to refer to the default rate that Kentucky permits to be collected by law, which is 8%.The court rejected Brandenburg's argument that the 10.66% rate was applicable because the tariff could be viewed as an agreement between the parties and Kentucky law allows for parties to agree on higher interest rates. The court pointed out that tariffs are not freely negotiated contracts, but represent the judgment of regulators about what rates and conditions will prove reasonable and uniform for utility customers. Once regulators approve a tariff, the filed-rate doctrine prevents utilities and their customers from contracting around its terms. In this context, the court determined that the tariff's reference to the maximum rate levied by the General Assembly for general commercial transactions aligned with the filed-rate doctrine, and thus, the 8% default rule of interest applied. View "Brandenburg Telephone Co. v. Sprint Comm'ns Co." on Justia Law