Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
New Lansing Gardens Housing Limited Partnership v. Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees the Section 8 low-income housing assistance program, 42 U.S.C. 1437f. New Lansing renewed its Section 8 contract with Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority in 2014 for a 20-year term. In 2019, at the contractual time for its fifth-year rent adjustment, New Lansing submitted a rent comparability study (RCS) to assist CM Authority in determining the new contract rents. Following the 2017 HUD Section 8 Guidebook, CM Authority forwarded New Lansing’s RCS to HUD, which obtained an independent RCS. Based on the independent RCS undertaken pursuant to HUD’s Guidebook requirements, the Housing Authority lowered New Lansing’s contract rents amount.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of New Lansing’s suit for breach of contract. The Renewal Contract requires only that the Housing Authority “make any adjustments in the monthly contract rents, as reasonably determined by the contract administrator in accordance with HUD requirements, necessary to set the contract rents for all unit sizes at comparable market rents.” HUD has authority to prescribe how to determine comparable market rents, the Renewal Contract adopted those requirements, and thus the Housing Authority was required to follow those HUD methods. The Housing Authority did not act unreasonably by following the requirements in the 2017 HUD guidance. View "New Lansing Gardens Housing Limited Partnership v. Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority" on Justia Law
Product Solutions International, Inc. v. Aldez Containers, LLC
PSI helps customers bring products to market. P.B. contacted PSI for assistance with the design, manufacture, and distribution of a custom cosmetics bag (Orgo Bag). PSI submitted a purchase order to its Chinese manufacturers indicating that P.B. would purchase 100,000 Orgo Bags in the first year and purchase another 1.5 million bags annually thereafter. During the first 18 months, P.B. purchased only 38,296 Orgo Bags. PSI directed the Chinese manufacturer to mitigate its losses and liquidate any materials it had purchased for the Orgo. The failure of the Orgo cost PSI $506,129.44. In 2019, PSI sued P.B., Aldez, Copek, and Byrne, alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, fraud, silent fraud, negligent misrepresentation, innocent misrepresentation, and non-acceptance of conforming goods under the U.C.C. The court dismissed Copek, Byrne, and Aldez but permitted some claims against P.B. to continue.In 2021, PSI sued Aldez for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and nonacceptance of conforming goods, arguing that in the 2019 suit, its claims were pleaded directly against Aldez, whereas in the 2021 suit, it sought to pierce P.B.’s corporate veil and hold Aldez vicariously liable. The district court dismissed, citing res judicata. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The complaint does not allege any wrongdoing by Aldez and corporate veil piercing is not a cause of action under Michigan law; the 2021 suit’s complaint fails to state a claim. View "Product Solutions International, Inc. v. Aldez Containers, LLC" on Justia Law
New London Tobacco Market, Inc. v. Ky. Fuel Corp.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the district court entering default judgment against Defendants in this breach of contract and fraud action and awarding damages to Plaintiffs on all counts, holding that there was error in the damages award.During the underlying litigation, Defendants committed a string of "egregious" discovery violations, and the district court entered default judgment as a sanction. After a hearing, the district court awarded Plaintiffs two types of breach-of-contract-related damages. The Court then awarded fraud and punitive damages. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiffs' fraud claim failed because it did not plead fraud with particularity as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b); (2) Kentucky's choice-of-remedies rule and the economic-loss doctrine barred Plaintiffs from recovering for both breach of contract and fraud; and (3) because Plaintiffs could not recover fraud damages, the punitive damages award could not stand. View "New London Tobacco Market, Inc. v. Ky. Fuel Corp." on Justia Law
Greenhouse Holdings, LLC v. International Union of Painters
The Sixth Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court vacating an arbitration award to the extent that it applied to Greenhouse Holdings, LLC (Greenhouse), holding that it was disputed whether Greenhouse consented to arbitrate, and therefore, the evidence should be weighed by the district court in the first instance.At issue was whether an arbitrator has the authority to bind someone who hasn't signed the underlying arbitration agreement to an arbitration award. A Union filed a grievance against "Clearview Glass," alleging that it violated the parties' collective bargaining agreement. An arbitrator concluded that Greenhouse was bound by an in violation of the CBA. The district court vacated the award to the extent it applied to Greenhouse because it was unclear whether Greenhouse ever assented to the CBA. The Sixth Circuit vacated the judgment, holding that remand was required for the district court to first decide whether Greenhouse consented to arbitrate the threshold arbitrability question. View "Greenhouse Holdings, LLC v. International Union of Painters" on Justia Law
Operating Engineers’ Local 324 Fringe Benefits Funds v. Rieth-Riley Construction Co.
The Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing this ERISA action for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that no contract bound the parties, holding that the presence of a live contract goes to the merits of this action, not the district court's jurisdiction to hear it.A group of employee benefits funds sued Defendant in a federal district court alleging breach of contract for late contributions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Defendant responded that no contract existed and that the presence of a live contract was a jurisdictional prerequisite to Plaintiffs' ERISA suit, meaning that the claim should have been brought under the National Labor Relations Act and that the National Labor Relations Board had exclusive jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' grievances. The district court dismissed the suit without prejudice, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the presence of a live contract is not an essential jurisdictional fact in an action brought under section 515 of ERISA. Rather, the presence of a live contract goes to the merits of Plaintiffs' ERISA claim. View "Operating Engineers' Local 324 Fringe Benefits Funds v. Rieth-Riley Construction Co." on Justia Law
SunAmerica Housing Fund 1050 v. Pathway of Pontiac, Inc.
In 2001, Presbyterian, a nonprofit, organized a partnership to operate an affordable housing community under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), 26 U.S.C. 42, program. SunAmerica, the limited partner, contributed $8,747,378 in capital for 99.99% of the $11,606,890 LIHTC credit. The partnership agreement gave Presbyterian (for one year following the 15-year LIHTC Compliance Period) a right of first refusal (ROFR) to purchase the property for less than the fair market value and a unilateral option to purchase for fair market value under specific circumstances. Before the end of the Compliance Period, Presbyterian expressed its desire to acquire the Property. After the Compliance Period, the General Partners told SunAmerica that they had received a bona fide offer from Lockwood and that Presbyterian could exercise its ROFR. SunAmerica filed suit.The district court granted SunAmerica summary judgment, reasoning that the Lockwood offer did not constitute a bona fide offer because it was solicited for the purpose of triggering the ROFR. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded for trial. The ROFR provision must be interpreted in light of the LIHTC’s goals, including making it easier for nonprofits to regain ownership of the property and continue the availability of low-income housing. The district court erred in concluding that the evidence “overwhelming[ly]” showed that the General Partners did not intend to sell. View "SunAmerica Housing Fund 1050 v. Pathway of Pontiac, Inc." on Justia Law
Union Home Mortgage Corp. v. Cromer
Cromer, formerly a “managing loan officer” for Union Home Mortgage, agreed to several restrictive covenants, including that he would “not become employed in the same or similar capacity” with a competitive entity. Cromer left Union and started working for Homeside Financial as a “non-producing” branch manager. Union sought a preliminary injunction to enforce Cromer’s restrictive covenants, citing the 2016 Defend Trade Secrets Act, 18 U.S.C. 1836; the Ohio Uniform Trade Secrets Act; the non-compete, confidentiality, and nonsolicitation covenants; the contractual duty of loyalty; and the common law duty of loyalty. Against Homeside, Union alleged tortious interference with business relationships and with contracts.The district court issued an injunction—without any time limitation—prohibiting Cromer, and anyone acting in concert, from “competing with Union Home.” The Sixth Circuit vacated. The injunction failed to satisfy the specificity requirements of FRCP 65(d)(1), was overbroad, and was otherwise improperly granted under the standard for preliminary injunctions. The broad prohibition covers any form of competition, irrespective of Cromer’s employer, job title, or duties, and created an inherent risk that the scope of the injunction exceeds the Agreement that the parties signed. The district court also failed to consider whether the non-compete covenant is reasonable and thus enforceable. View "Union Home Mortgage Corp. v. Cromer" on Justia Law
Granite State Insurance Co. v. Star Mine Services, Inc.
Star, a mine staffing company, bought workers’ compensation insurance from Granite. Early in each policy year, Star gave Granite an estimate of its total payroll, which Granite used to calculate an estimated premium. Star paid the preliminary installment. After each year, Granite audited Star’s records to produce an exact payroll number, then charged additional premiums or made reconciliation payments. A 2018 audit revealed that Star had significantly underestimated its 2017 payroll, as it had for 2016. To avoid a similar situation with the 2018 policy, Granite adjusted its estimated premium for Star halfway through the year. In accordance with industry guidelines, Granite increased Star’s 2018 estimated premium to reflect 2017’s actual payroll numbers, giving Star four weeks to pay the difference. Star never paid. Granite canceled the policy three months early. Star closed its business. To determine Star’s final premium—and whether it owed a reconciliation payment—Granite needed to complete its year-end audit. Star would not comply. Granite’s final bill, including the updated estimated premium, prorated for early cancellation, was $1,485,323, including an “audit noncompliance charge” (double 2018’s total estimated premium).Granite sued for breach of contract. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Granite, rejecting Star’s argument that the noncompliance charge is an unenforceable penalty. Kentucky’s insurance regulator approved the rates that Kentucky insurance companies charge, barring their review. View "Granite State Insurance Co. v. Star Mine Services, Inc." on Justia Law
I. C. v. StockX, LLC
Eight named plaintiffs, including two minors, brought a nationwide putative class action against e-commerce provider StockX for allegedly failing to protect millions of StockX users’ personal account information obtained through a cyber-attack in May 2019. Since 2015, StockX’s terms of service included an arbitration agreement, a delegation provision, a class action waiver, and instructions for how to opt-out of the arbitration agreement. Since 2017, StockX's website has stated: StockX may change these Terms without notice to you. “YOUR CONTINUED USE OF THE SITE AFTER WE CHANGE THESE TERMS CONSTITUTES YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF THE CHANGES. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO ANY CHANGES, YOU MUST CANCEL YOUR ACCOUNT.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit and an order compelling arbitration. The court rejected arguments that there is an issue of fact as to whether four of the plaintiffs agreed to the current terms of service and that the defenses of infancy and unconscionability render the terms of service and the arbitration agreement (including the delegation provision) invalid and unenforceable. The arbitrator must decide in the first instance whether the defenses of infancy and unconscionability allow plaintiffs to avoid arbitrating the merits of their claims. View "I. C. v. StockX, LLC" on Justia Law
Lakeside Surfaces, Inc. v. Cambria Co., LLC
Lakeside, a Michigan corporation, fabricates stone countertops in Michigan. Cambria a Minnesota LLC, is a nationwide manufacturer of countertop products. Lakeside buys “solid surface products” from manufacturers like Cambria. In 2011, the two companies executed a Business Partner Agreement (BPA) including a Credit Agreement, a Security Agreement, Order Terms and Conditions, Lifetime Limited Warranty, and a Business Operating Requirements Manual Acknowledgment Form. The BPA’s choice-of-law provision and forum-selection clause, in a single paragraph, state: This agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Minnesota. Any proceeding involving this Agreement and/or any claims or disputes relating to the agreements and transactions between the parties shall be in the ... State of Minnesota. Pursuant to the BPA, Lakeside opened a fabrication facility in 2017. Discussions about Lakeside becoming Cambria’s sole Michigan fabricator led to Lakeside terminating the relationship.Lakeside filed suit in the Western District of Michigan, alleging breach of contract, violations of the Michigan Franchise Investment Law (MFIL), UCC violations, and promissory estoppel. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, finding the forum-selection clause unenforceable. MFIL’s prohibition on forum-selection clauses is a strong Michigan public policy and enforcing the forum-selection clause here would clearly contravene that policy. The MFIL claim is not Lakeside’s only claim, and the choice-of-law provision may be applied, as appropriate, to claims within its scope. View "Lakeside Surfaces, Inc. v. Cambria Co., LLC" on Justia Law