Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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
McKeon Products, Inc. v. Howard S. Leight & Associates, Inc.
McKeon has sold “MACK’S” earplugs to retail consumers since the 1960s. In the 1980s, Honeywell's predecessor began marketing and selling MAX-brand earplugs to distributors. The brand names are phonetically identical. In 1995, McKeon sued. The parties entered a settlement agreement that the district court approved by consent decree. To prevent customer confusion, Honeywell agreed not to sell its MAX-brand earplugs into the “Retail Market” but could continue to sell its earplugs in “the Industrial Safety Market and elsewhere." The agreement and the consent decree never contemplated the internet. In 2017, McKeon complained about sales of MAX-brand earplugs on Amazon and other retail websites.The district court ruled in favor of McKeon. The Sixth Circuit affirmed and remanded. Laches is available to Honeywell as an affirmative defense but does not apply to these facts. Parties subject to consent decrees cannot scale their prohibited conduct over time, using minor undetected violations to justify later larger infringements. Honeywell did not establish that McKeon should have discovered the breaching conduct before Honeywell drastically increased online sales. McKeon’s interpretation of the consent decree is the better reading. Concluding that Amazon is a “retail establishment” makes sense given the parties’ intent. View "McKeon Products, Inc. v. Howard S. Leight & Associates, Inc." on Justia Law
AtriCure, Inc. v. Meng
AtriCure, an Ohio company, that develops medical devices to treat atrial fibrillation, contracted with Dr. Meng’s company, ZenoMed, to serve as AtriCure’s exclusive Chinese distributor. AtriCure later believed that another of Meng's Chinese companies (Med-Zenith) was attempting to market a dangerous knockoff medical device. AtriCure and ZenoMed had a “Distribution Agreement” that included confidentiality and noncompete clauses and an arbitration clause designating a Chinese entity as the forum. AtriCure let the Distribution Agreement expire and demanded that ZenoMed pay for or return its inventory. Receiving no response, AtriCure filed a federal complaint in Ohio against Meng and Med-Zenith for improperly manufacturing and selling counterfeit products. ZenoMed, Meng, and Med-Zenith sought to stay the lawsuit against them under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 16(a) While Meng and Med-Zenith were not parties to the Distribution Agreement, they argued equitable estoppel and agency theories. The court denied their motion.The Sixth Circuit remanded. Although Supreme Court has promoted a “healthy regard” for the Federal Arbitration Act’s “federal policy favoring arbitration," the Act’s text compels states only to treat arbitration contracts the same way that they treat “any contract.” Ohio law permits the defendants to enforce an arbitration clause even though they did not sign the contract. The defendants' “equitable estoppel” theories failed but the district court failed to ask the right question under Ohio law when rejecting their agency theory. View "AtriCure, Inc. v. Meng" on Justia Law
Boykin v. Family Dollar Stores of Michigan, LLC
Boykin, a 73-year-old African-American veteran, worked in managerial roles for Family Dollar Stores. On July 8, 2018, Boykin had a dispute with a customer. Family Dollar fired Boykin weeks later. Boykin sued, alleging age and race discrimination. Family Dollar moved to compel arbitration, introducing a declaration that Family Dollar employees must take online training sessions, including a session about arbitration. When taking online courses, employees use their own unique ID and password. During the arbitration session, they must review and accept Family Dollar’s arbitration agreement. According to Family Dollar, Boykin completed the session on July 15, 2013. Boykin replied under oath that he did not consent to or acknowledge an arbitration agreement at any time, that he had no recollection of taking the arbitration session, and that no one ever told him that arbitration was a condition of his employment. Boykin requested his personnel file, which did not include an arbitration agreement. The district court granted Family Dollar’s motion.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Although the Federal Arbitration Act requires a court to summarily compel arbitration upon a party’s request, the court may do so only if the opposing side has not put the making of the arbitration contract “in issue.” 9 U.S.C. 4. Boykin’s evidence created a genuine issue of fact over whether he electronically accepted the contract or otherwise learned of Family Dollar’s arbitration policy. View "Boykin v. Family Dollar Stores of Michigan, LLC" on Justia Law
Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp.
Zen-Noh purchased grain shipments. Sellers were required to prepay barge freight and deliver the product to Zen-Noh’s terminal but were not required to use any specific delivery company. Ingram, a carrier, issued the sellers negotiable bills of lading, defining the relationships of the consignor (company arranging shipment), the consignee (to receive delivery), and the carrier. Printed on each bill was an agreement to "Terms” and a link to the Terms on Ingram’s website. Those Terms purport to bind any entity that has an ownership interest in the goods and included a forum selection provision selecting the Middle District of Tennessee.Ingram updated its Terms and alleges that it notified Zen-Noh through an email to CGB, which it believed was “closely connected with Zen-Noh,” often acting on Zen-Noh's behalf in dealings related to grain transportation. Weeks after the email, Zen-Noh sent Ingram an email complaining about invoices for which it did not believe it was liable. Ingram replied with a link to the Terms. Zen-Noh answered that it was “not party to the barge affreightment contract as received in your previous email.” The grains had been received by Zen-Noh, which has paid Ingram penalties related to delayed loading or unloading but has declined to pay Ingram's expenses involving ‘fleeting,’ ‘wharfage,’ and ‘shifting.’” Ingram filed suit in the Middle District of Tennessee. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Zen-Noh was neither a party to nor consented to Ingram’s contract and is not bound to the contract’s forum selection clause; the district court did not have jurisdiction over Zen-Noh. View "Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp." on Justia Law
Carhartt, Inc. v. Innovative Textiles, Inc.
In 2009, Carhartt contracted with Innovative to create a flame-resistant fleece fabric for use in its line of flame-resistant garments. The fabric that Innovative developed for Carhartt, “Style 2015," contained a modacrylic fiber, “Protex-C.” Innovative agreed that it would conduct flame-resistance testing on the Style 2015 fabric before shipping it to Carhartt, using the industry-standard test, ASTM D6413. Carhartt sent Innovative emails in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 stating that Carhartt would do “regular, random testing on the product that is received.” Carhartt performed visual inspections but did not conduct flame-resistance testing until 2016. The Style 2015 fabric failed the D6413 test. Carhartt notified Innovative, which then conducted its own testing and concluded that Style 2015 fabrics dating back to 2014 did not pass flame-resistance testing. In 2013, Innovative stopped using Protex-C and began using a different modacrylic fiber without notice to Carhartt.The district court granted Innovative summary judgment on Carhartt’s negligence, fraud, misrepresentation, false advertising claims. breach of contract and warranty claims. The court reasoned that Carhartt did not notify Innovative of the suspected breach within a reasonable amount of time after Carhartt should have discovered the defect, as required by Michigan’s Uniform Commercial Code. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Reasonable minds could differ as to whether Carhartt should have discovered the breach sooner by performing regular, destructive fire-resistance testing on the fabric. View "Carhartt, Inc. v. Innovative Textiles, Inc." on Justia Law