Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Rotondo was the sole owner of Apex, which wholly owned four limited liability companies (Directional Entities). Apex and the Directional Entities provided services, such as human resources, to different clients. Rotondo sold the Directional Entities’ key asset, customer lists, to AES, which agreed to pay Rotondo a share of its gross profits in the form of “Consulting Fees.” Two entities sought to collect Rotondo’s Consulting Fees: Akouri loaned money to one of Rotondo’s other companies and had a security interest in Apex’s assets and a judgment against Rotondo and Apex for $1.4 million. Rotondo also owes the IRS $3.4 million. The IRS filed several notices of tax liens against Rotondo, Apex, and the Directional Entities. AES filed an interpleader action. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the IRS. The timing of a federal tax lien is measured by when the IRS gave notice of its lien, 26 U.S.C. 6323(a), (f); the timing of state security interests, like Akouri’s, is measured by when they become “choate”—i.e., complete or perfected. Akouri’s interest would be choate as of 2019, but the IRS’s tax liens date to before 2019. The court rejected Akouri’s attempt to recategorize the customer list assets as originally belonging to Apex rather than the Directional Entities. View "AES-Apex Employer Services, Inc. v. Rotondo" on Justia Law

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Economy Linen and Towel Service faced a shortfall of qualified truck drivers and subcontracted with another firm to provide the necessary drivers. The union filed a grievance on the ground that the new drivers earned a higher hourly rate than the union-represented employees. An arbitrator ruled for the union. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that in reviewing arbitration awards, courts do not ask whether the arbitrator interpreted the contract correctly; “the parties bargained for an arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract, not a federal judge’s interpretation of it.” The court noted that this situation did not involve any allegations of fraud and that the arbitrator did not decide any issue outside of his authority but only determined which contractual provision controlled. View "Economy Linen & Towel Service, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters" on Justia Law

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Dimond was hired by a Chinese manufacturer to “rig, dismantle, wash, and pack,” and ship used automotive assembly-line equipment to China. Dimond, which lacked experience in international shipment, hired BDP. Dimond asserted that BDP did not disclose that it was not a licensed Ocean Transport Intermediary by the Federal Maritime Commission. In May 2011, BDP informed Dimond that it had obtained a ship and sent a booking note to Dimond. Between May and October 2011, Dimond dismantled and weighed the equipment and prepared a “preliminary" packing list. BDP allegedly provided the preliminary packing list when it obtained quotes from third-party contractors to load the Equipment. In October 2011, BDP notified Dimond that the ship was no longer available. Dimond asserted that BDP “without Dimond’s knowledge, consent or approval” hired Logitrans to perform BDP’s freight forwarding duties. BDP and Logitrans hired a ship. As a result of many ensuing difficulties, Dimond became involved in multiple lawsuits, including suits with its Chinese customer and the stevedores. Dimond sued BDP in July 2013 but never served BDP with the complaint. When the summons expired, the district court dismissed without prejudice. In August 2017, Dimond filed a Motion to Amend and Praecipe for Issuance of Amended Summons for its 2013 suit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. The suit was not timely filed within the one-year statute of limitations set forth in the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act. View "Dimond Rigging Co. v. BDP International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Innovation sold 5-Hour Energy. In 2004, it contracted with CN to manufacture and package 5-Hour. Jones, CN's President and CEO, had previously manufactured an energy shot. When the business relationship ended, CN had extra ingredients and packaging, which Jones used to continue manufacturing 5-Hour, allegedly as mitigation of damages. The companies sued one another, asserting breach of contract, stolen trade secrets or intellectual property, and torts, then entered into the Settlement, which contains an admission that CN and Jones “wrongfully manufactured” 5-Hour products and forbids CN from manufacturing any new “Energy Liquid” that “contain[s] anything in the Choline Family.” CN received $1.85 million. CN was sold to a new corporation, NSL. Under the Purchase Agreement, NSL acquired CN's assets but is not “responsible for any liabilities ... obligations, or encumbrances” of CN except for bank debt. The Agreement includes one reference to the Settlement. NSL, with Jones representing himself as its President, took on CN’s orders and customers, selling energy shots containing substances listed in the Choline Family definition. Innovation sued. Innovation was awarded nominal damages for breach of contract. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of defendants’ antitrust counterclaim, that NSL is bound by the Settlement, and that reasonable royalty and disgorgement of profits are not appropriate measures of damages. Jones is not personally bound by the Agreement. Upon remand, Innovation may introduce testimony that uses market share to quantify its lost profits. The rule of reason provides the proper standard for evaluating the restrictive covenants; Defendants have the burden of showing an unreasonable restraint on trade. View "Innovation Ventures, LLC v. Nutrition Science Laboratories, LLC" on Justia Law

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FAMC and UNB entered into a 2005 Correspondent Loan Purchase Agreement: FAMC would purchase mortgage loans from UNB; UNB made representations and warranties, including that there would be no fact or circumstance that would entitle a subsequent purchaser to demand repurchase of a loan. UNB agreed to repurchase any loans if a representation or warranty turned out to be false or if a subsequent buyer required that FAMC repurchase the loan. UNB promised to indemnify FAMC for losses due to any misrepresentation or breach of the Agreement. UNB later agreed to perform underwriting for loans it sold to FAMC. The 2006 “Salvino Loan” and the 2007 “Turner Loan” were underwritten by UNB. FAMC resold both to Wells Fargo. In 2010, Wells Fargo notified FAMC that it had identified defects in the underwriting for both loans and demanded that FAMC repurchase the Salvino Loan and indemnify with respect to the Turner Loan. FAMC paid Wells Fargo $231,225.33. UNB refused to repurchase or indemnify. To cut its losses, FAMC resold the Salvino Loan. In 2013, FAMC sued. The district court granted FAMC summary judgment, awarding $188,858.71 in damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The repurchase and indemnification provisions created independent contractual obligations, so the claims did not accrue until 2010 and 2011, when FAMC incurred its losses; the 2013 complaint was timely. FAMC produced sufficient evidence of breach and causation and its mitigation efforts were reasonable. View "Franklin American Mortgage Co. v. The University National Bank of Lawrence" on Justia Law

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Ritzen Group contracted to buy a piece of property from Jackson Masonry. The sale never went through. Ritzen claimed Jackson breached by providing error-ridden documentation on the eve of the closing deadline, while Jackson claimed Ritzen breached by failing to secure funding by that deadline. After the deal failed, Ritzen sued Jackson for breach of contract in Tennessee state court. The case progressed for nearly a year-and-a-half until Jackson filed for bankruptcy. As a result of the bankruptcy, the litigation was automatically stayed. Ritzen moved to lift the stay, which the bankruptcy court denied. Ritzen did not appeal, instead, brought a claim against the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy court found that Ritzen, not Jackson, breached the contract. Ritzen subsequently filed two appeals to the district court. The first targeted the bankruptcy court’s order denying relief from the automatic stay. The second targeted the breach-of-contract determination. The district court found that the first appeal was untimely and rejected the second on the merits. Ritzen appealed again. Finding no reversible error in the district or bankruptcy courts' judgments, the Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Ritzen Group, Inc. v. Jackson Masonry" on Justia Law

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Connecticut imposed liability for breaches of contract when attended by deception. Unhappy with flanges purchased under a contract with PM Engineered Solutions, Inc. (“Powdered Metal”), Bosal Industries-Georgia, Inc. (“Bosal”) decided to switch suppliers and terminate the contract. After a five-day bench trial, the district court found that the termination was not only wrongful in breach of the contract, but that it was deceptive in violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Because Connecticut law applied and the district court’s findings rested on a permissible view of the evidence, the Sixth Circuit affirmed except as to the calculation of postjudgment interest on damages. View "Premium Freight Mgmt. v. PM Engineered Solutions" on Justia Law

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Exel, a shipping broker, sued SRT, an interstate motor carrier, after SRT lost a load of pharmaceuticals owned by Exel’s customer, Sandoz, that was being transported from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. After nearly seven years of litigation, including a prior appeal, the district court entered judgment for Exel and awarded it the replacement cost of the lost pharmaceuticals, approximately $5.9 million. SRT argued that the district court erred in discounting bills of lading that ostensibly limited SRT’s liability to a small fraction of the shipment’s value. Exel argued that the court erred in measuring damages by the replacement cost of the pharmaceuticals rather than by their higher market value. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Exel and SRT had a Master Transportation Services Agreement (MTSA), which stated that any bill of lading “shall be subject to and subordinate to” the MTSA; that SRT “shall be liable” to Exel for any “loss” to commodities shipped pursuant to the agreement; and that the “measurement of the loss . . . shall be the Shipper’s replacement value.” The Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. 14706 “puts the burden on the carrier to demonstrate that the parties had a written agreement to limit the carrier’s liability, irrespective [of] whether the shipper drafted the bill of lading.” SRT did not carry its burden to show that it effectively limited its liability. View "Exel, Inc. v. Southern Refrigerated Transport, Inc." on Justia Law

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Henderson, a patient with Alzheimer’s disease at Watermark’s nursing home, wandered from her room unattended and died after drinking detergent that she found in a kitchen cabinet. Henderson’s estate filed a wrongful death suit against Watermark. Morrison provided kitchen services at the facility and its employees had been in the kitchen shortly before Henderson discovered the detergent, but Watermark did not implead Morrison and argued that Morrison’s employees had properly locked the cabinet before leaving. A jury awarded $5.08 million. Watermark did not appeal but settled with Henderson’s estate for $3.65 million. On a joint motion, the court dismissed the action with prejudice. Months later, Watermark sued Morrison for contractual indemnification and breach of contract. The district court dismissed, finding that issue preclusion barred both claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. While a judgment that is set aside upon settlement can be used for collateral-estoppel purposes in future litigation, only the contractual indemnification issue is barred. Under the parties’ contract, Watermark can prevail on its indemnification claim only by showing that the damages it seeks were not the result of its own negligence. It cannot do so; the jury determined that the damages were the result of Watermark’s negligence. The jury’s finding of negligence does not, however, preclude Watermark from going forward with its breach-of-contract claim, which does not rely on the indemnity provision of the parties’ contract. View "Watermark Senior Living Communities, Inc. v. Morrison Management Specialists, Inc." on Justia Law

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Local Union 3-G represents employees at Kellogg’s Battle Creek plant and is affiliated with the International Union, which represents employees at additional Kellogg’s plants. “Regular” employees and “non-regular” employees, including casual employees, make up the 3-G bargaining unit. There is a Master Agreement between Kellogg, the International Union, and local unions at four plants, which have Supplemental Agreements. A Memorandum of Agreement, appended to the Battle Creek Supplemental Agreement, states that the Supplemental and Master Agreements will not apply to casual employees and the Company may terminate casual employees without being subject to the grievance procedure. A 2015 Master Agreement “established wage rates, a signing ratification bonus for all employees, the establishment of a transitional employee classification to replace casual employees, and other changes" for all Battle Creek bargaining unit employees. After the ratification vote, Kellogg refused to pay a ratification bonus to casual employees, seasonal employees, and some regular employees. The parties went through the grievance procedure, but Kellogg refused to arbitrate, arguing that the arbitration provisions do not apply to casual employees. The Sixth Circuit previously held that arbitration provisions in the “Memphis Supplemental Agreement” did not cover casual employees. The district court determined that judicial estoppel did not apply to the Battle Creek action and granted the motion to compel arbitration. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, The Agreement has a broad arbitration clause, so the presumption of arbitrability is particularly applicable. View "Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union AFL-CIO v. Kellogg Co." on Justia Law