Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Colorado Center Development, LLC, the owner of certain property in Denver, Colorado, hired J.E. Dunn Construction Company to construct an office building (the Project). Colorado Center purchased from Defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company a Builder’s Risk insurance policy (the Policy). The Policy provided protection against “direct physical loss or damage caused by a covered peril to ‘buildings or structures’ while in the course of construction, erection, or fabrication.” J.E. Dunn hired plaintiff Rocky Mountain Prestress, LLC (RMP) as a subcontractor to perform work including “engineer[ing], supply[ing,] and install[ing] all precast concrete components, connections, and erections aids” and “[s]upply[ing] and install[ing] grout and/or patching of all connections required by the engineering for the structural integrity of the precast.” Because of “potential concerns that arose at another project” relating to “sinking pillars/columns,” J.E. Dunn requested RMP to retain a third-party engineering firm to investigate “potential structural issues” with RMP’s work on the Project. The engineering firm concluded that the Project required “repairs to insufficiently grouted joints between precast concrete column and pilaster elements” at 264 locations throughout the structure. The engineering firm began its investigation in August 2016, and the final grouting repair work was completed in February 2017. In the meantime, in November 2016, RMP submitted a claim to Liberty seeking coverage under the Policy. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company on three independent grounds: (1) RMP had not shown that the claimed loss was fortuitous; (2) the claimed loss did not constitute “direct physical loss or damage” as required for coverage under the policy; and (3) even if there might otherwise have been coverage, the claimed loss fell within the policy’s exclusion for defective workmanship. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision based on the defective-workmanship exclusion. View "Rocky Mountain Presstress v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance" on Justia Law

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Appellee-defendant TEP Rocky Mountain, LLC (“TEP”) operated wells that produced natural gas in Colorado. These wells were subject to various leases or royalty Appellant-intervenors Ivo Lindauer, Sidney Lindauer, Ruther Lindauer, and Diamond Minerals LLC (the “Lindauers” or the “Intervenors”), were the representatives for a class of royalty owners who filed suit in 2006 in Colorado state court, alleging that TEP had underpaid royalties on various leases and royalty agreements. In 2008, TEP and the Lindauer class entered into a settlement agreement (the “Lindauer SA”) purporting to “resolve all class claims relating to past calculation of royalt[ies]” and to “establish certain rules to govern future royalty” payments. The Lindauer SA declared that the state court would retain “continuing jurisdiction” to enforce provisions of the settlement related to “the description of past and future royalty methodologies.” Approximately eight years passed, free of incident. But on July 18, 2017, a subset of the Lindauer class (the “Sefcovic class”) initiated this action against TEP in Colorado state court, alleging that TEP had calculated and paid royalties in a manner inconsistent with the Lindauer SA and contrary to the underlying royalty agreements. TEP removed the case to federal court. Appellants intervened in the district court, seeking to dismiss the action for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. Through two separate motions to dismiss, the briefing from both parties "confused the bounds of federal subject matter jurisdiction and conflated that concept with the doctrines of abstention and comity, and with matters of venue and forum." Despite this misdirection, the district court properly exercised jurisdiction and rebuffed appellants’ attempts to unwind nearly eighteen months of class action litigation. After review, the Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court's judgment and affirmed it. View "Elna Sefcovic v. TEP Rocky Mountain" on Justia Law

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The insured, Brenda Sandoval, submitted a claim to her insurer, Unum Life Insurance Company of America, which initially paid benefits but then terminated them. The termination of benefits led Sandoval to sue Unum for: (1) a common-law tort (bad faith breach of insurance contract); (2) a statutory tort (unreasonable conduct under Colo. Rev. Stat. sec. 10-3-1115 to 1116); and (3) breach of contract. The district court granted Unum’s motion for partial summary judgment on the tort claims. The contract claim went to trial, where the jury rendered a verdict for Sandoval. The district court later denied Unum’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. Sandoval appealed the grant of Unum’s motion for partial summary judgment, and Unum cross-appealed the denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the award of partial summary judgment on the tort claims because Unum conducted a reasonable investigation. On the contract claim, the Court also affirmed the denial of Unum’s motion for judgment as a matter of law: the policy contained two alternative tests for a disability, and the evidence permitted a reasonable finding that Sandoval had satisfied at least one of these definitions. View "Sandoval v. UNUM Life Insurance" on Justia Law

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In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wyoming’s anti-indemnity statute would not defeat possible insurance coverage to an additional insured. In this second appeal and cross-appeal, the issue presented for the Court's review centered on whether the district court correctly ruled that additional-insured coverage existed under the applicable insurance policies; whether the district court entered judgment for the additional insured in an amount greater than the policy limits; and whether the district court correctly ruled that the additional insured was not entitled to prejudgment interest and attorneys’ fees. Ultra Resources, Inc. held a lease for a Wyoming well site. In January 2007, Ultra contracted with Upstream International, LLC under a Master Service Agreement to manage the well site. The Ultra-Upstream contract required Upstream to obtain insurance policies with a stated minimum amount of coverage for Ultra and Ultra’s contractors and subcontractors. To do so, Upstream obtained two policies from Lexington Insurance Company - a General Liability Policy (“General Policy”) and a Commercial Umbrella Policy (“Umbrella Policy”). Lexington issued and delivered the two policies in Texas. Ultra contracted with Precision Drilling (“Precision”) to operate a drilling rig at the well site. Precision maintained a separate insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London (“Lloyd’s”), covering Precision for primary and excess liability. Upstream employed Darrell Jent as a contract management of some Ultra well sites. Jent assumed that Precision employees had already attached and tightened all A-leg bolts on a rig platform. In fact, Precision employees had loosened the A-leg bolts (which attach the A-legs to the derrick) and had not properly secured these bolts. After supervising the pin removal, Jent had just left the rig floor and reached “the top step leading down from the rig floor” when the derrick fell because of the “defectively bolted ‘A- legs’ attaching the derrick to the rig floor.” Jent was seriously injured after being thrown from the steps, and sued Precision for negligence. Precision demanded that Ultra defend and indemnify it as required by the Ultra-Precision drilling contract. Ultra, in turn, demanded that Upstream defend Precision under the insurance policies required by the Ultra-Upstream Contract. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court ruled correctly on each issue presented, so it affirmed. View "Lexington Insurance Company v. Precision Drilling Company" on Justia Law

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While driving a car insured by Arizona Automobile Insurance Company, Marlena Whicker rear-ended a taxi and injured its passenger, Georgiana Chavez. Chavez sued Whicker in Colorado state court and won a default judgment when neither Whicker nor Arizona entered a defense. Whicker, unable to satisfy the judgment from the lawsuit, assigned her rights against Arizona to Chavez, who then filed this diversity suit against Arizona in federal court for failure to defend Whicker in the underlying state court action. Her theory was that Arizona had a duty to defend Whicker under Colorado law because Arizona knew that she was a driver covered under its policy. The district court disagreed with Chavez and granted Arizona’s motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit determined that under Colorado law, Arizona was only required to defend Whicker if Chavez’s complaint plausibly alleged Whicker was insured under the Arizona policy. It therefore reached the same conclusion as the district court and, affirmed its dismissal of Chavez’s case. View "Chavez v. Arizona Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Elizabeth Frost died in an accidental house fire. At the time, ADT provided security monitoring services to the premises. During the fire, ADT received several alerts through its monitoring system. Although ADT attempted to call Frost and the back-up number listed on her account, it did not get through. After several such attempts, ADT cleared the alerts without contacting emergency services. The administrator of Frost’s estate and her minor heir, M.F., sued ADT. The central theme of the complaint was that ADT’s failure to notify emergency services contradicted representations on its website that it would do so, and that failure wrongfully caused or contributed to Frost’s death. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding the one-year suit limitation provision in the contract between ADT and Frost barred the claims and that Claimants failed to state a claim with respect to certain counts. Because the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found the contract between Frost and ADT provided an enforceable suit-limitation provision that barred the claims at issue, it affirmed dismissal. View "Frost v. ADT" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a federal court sitting in Oklahoma had specific jurisdiction over Dr. Scott Jolly, a dentist and Arkansas resident, and his Limited Liability practice, Jolly Dental Group, LLC. Dental Dynamics, LLC argued that three isolated business transactions and an allegedly fraudulent contract were sufficient to establish federal court jurisdiction over its breach of contract and fraud claims. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding Jolly Dental's contacts with Oklahoma were "too random, fortuitous, and attenuated" to establish personal jurisdiction there. With respect to Denta; Dynamics' fraud claim, the Court concluded Dental Dynamics failed to show conduct sufficiently targeted to Oklahoma to establish personal jurisdiction there. View "Dental Dynamics v. Jolly Dental Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Robert Barnes filed a putative class action against defendant Security Life of Denver Insurance Company (SLD) alleging that SLD, in the course of administering life insurance policies purchased by Barnes and other similarly-situated class members, breached its contractual duties and committed the tort of conversion by imposing certain administrative costs that were not authorized under the terms of the policies. Jackson National Life Insurance Company (Jackson) moved to intervene, asserting that, as a result of reinsurance agreements entered into by SLD, Jackson was actually the entity responsible for administering Barnes’s policy and numerous other policies listed within the putative class. The district court denied Jackson’s motion. After reviewing the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded Jackson established the requirements for intervention as of right, and accordingly reversed the decision of the district court and remanded with directions to grant Jackson’s motion to intervene. View "Barnes v. Security Life of Denver" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Brian Shotts was injured in a car accident caused by Dana Pollard. Shotts was insured under a policy issued by GEICO General Insurance Company (“GEICO”), which included underinsured motorist (“UM”) coverage. Pollard had automobile insurance through Farmers Insurance (“Farmers”). Shotts filed a claim with Farmers, which offered Pollard’s policy limits as settlement. Before accepting the offer, Shotts notified GEICO of the accident. GEICO opened a claim, assigned an adjuster, and began an investigation. GEICO also waived its subrogation rights, allowing Shotts to accept the offer from Farmers. GEICO’s investigation determined that Shotts’s injuries exceeded Pollard’s policy limits by $3,210.87. GEICO offered Shotts a settlement of that amount, but Shotts declined the offer as “unreasonably low.” Shotts demanded GEICO promptly “pay the first dollar of his claim, up to the value of [the] claim or the total available UM limits” of $25,000. He also asked GEICO to reevaluate the offer. In response, GEICO requested additional information about Shotts’s injuries. It then proposed a peer review to determine whether his injuries exceeded the $3,210.87 offer. Shotts sued for bad faith breach of contract, alleging that GEICO acted in bad faith by: (1) conducting “a biased and unfair investigation and evaluation of [his] claim”; and (2) failing to pay the full value of his claim. He also requested punitive damages. The district court granted summary judgment for GEICO on both bad faith claims and denied punitive damages. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Shotts v. GEICO" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs and counterclaim-defendants Mrs. Fields Famous Brands, LLC (Famous Brands) and Mrs. Fields Franchising, LLC (Fields Franchising) appealed a district court order granting a preliminary injunction in favor of defendant and counterclaim-plaintiff MFGPC Inc. (MFGPC). The sole member of Famous Brands is Mrs. Fields Original Cookies, Inc. (MFOC). MFOC entered into a Trademark License Agreement (License Agreement) with LHF, Inc. (LHF), an affiliate of MFGPC. In 2003, LHF assigned all rights under the License Agreement to MFGPC, and MFGPC agreed to be bound by and perform in accordance with the License Agreement. The License Agreement granted MFGPC a license to develop, manufacture, package, distribute and sell prepackaged popcorn products bearing the “Mrs. Fields” trademark through all areas of general retail distribution. A dispute arose after Fields Franchising allowed MFGPC to be late with a royalty payment because of a fire that destroyed some of MFGPC’s operations. The franchisor sought to terminate the licensing agreement and collect the royalties owed. Fields Franchising filed suit against MFGPC. In August 2018, the district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of MFGPC on its counterclaim for breach of a trademark license agreement that afforded MFGPC the exclusive use of the “Mrs. Fields” trademark on popcorn products. The district court’s summary judgment order left only the question of remedy to be decided at trial. MFGPC then moved for a preliminary injunction, arguing that there was a substantial likelihood that it would prevail at trial on the remedy of specific performance. After conducting a hearing, the district court granted MFGPC’s motion and ordered Fields Franchising to terminate any licenses it had entered into with other companies for the use of the Mrs. Fields trademark on popcorn products, and to instead comply with the terms of the licensing agreement it had previously entered into with MFGPC. Famous Brands and Fields Franchising argued in this appeal that the district court erred in a number of respects in granting MFGPC’s motion for preliminary injunction. The Tenth Circuit agreed with appellants, and consequently reversed the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of MFGPC. View "Mrs. Fields Famous Brands v. MFGPC" on Justia Law