Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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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

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Beginning in 2009, Plaintiff Rajesh Singh worked as an untenured professor in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University (ESU). He was informed in February 2014 that his annual contract would not be renewed. He sued ESU and various administrators in their individual capacities, asserting several retaliation and discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Kansas Act Against Discrimination (KAAD); and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on every claim except one: a First Amendment retaliation claim under section 1983 against Provost David Cordle. Provost Cordle appealed the denial of summary judgment on the ground that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court then certified as final under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) its order granting summary judgment on all other claims, and Plaintiff filed a cross-appeal, challenging the grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims: (1) ESU and the individual Defendants discriminated against him by not renewing his contract; and (2) ESU and the individual Defendants retaliated against him for filing discrimination complaints with ESU’s human resources department and the Kansas Human Rights Commission (KHRC). The Tenth Circuit found the claims against ESU were brought under Title VII and the KAAD, and the claims against the individual Defendants were brought under section 1983. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment for Provost Cordle and affirmed grants of summary judgment on the remaining claims. Cordle was entitled to qualified immunity because he could have reasonably believed that the speech for which he allegedly punished Plaintiff was not on a matter of public concern. As for the discrimination claims, the district court properly granted summary judgment because Plaintiff did not establish a genuine issue of fact that ESU’s given reason for his nonrenewal, that he was noncollegial, was pretextual. “Although Plaintiff contends that these discrimination claims survive under the cat’s-paw theory of liability, he does not provide adequate evidence that the allegedly biased supervisor - his school’s dean - proximately caused the ultimate nonrenewal decision.” The Court affirmed summary judgment on Plaintiff’s retaliation claims because he failed to present adequate evidence that the ESU employees who allegedly retaliated against him knew that he had filed formal discrimination complaints. View "Singh v. Cordle" on Justia Law

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Bonni Genzer, an Uber driver, contended James River Insurance Company, Uber’s insurer, breached its contractual obligations by declining coverage for injuries she sustained in an accident on the return leg of a lengthy fare. Genzer also contended that, under Oklahoma law, the “mend the hold” doctrine limited James River to the grounds it gave for declining coverage before she sued. The district court granted summary judgment in James River’s favor, first ruling that Oklahoma had not adopted the mend-the-hold doctrine, and next holding that Genzer’s claim falls outside the scope of the governing insurance policy. The Tenth Circuit agreed as to both issues. View "Genzer v. James River Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Antero Resources Company and South Jersey Gas Company entered into an eight-year contract for Antero to deliver natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation to gas meters located on the Columbia Pipeline in West Virginia. The parties tied gas pricing to the Columbia Appalachia Index.During performance of the contract, the price of natural gas linked to the Index increased. South Jersey contested the higher prices, arguing that modifications to the Index materially changed the pricing methodology, and that the Index should be replaced with one that reflected the original agreement. Antero disagreed. South Jersey then sued Antero in New Jersey state court for failing to negotiate a replacement index, and began paying a lower price based on a different index. Antero then sued South Jersey in federal district court in Colorado, where its principal place of business was located, for breach of contract for its failure to pay the Index price. The lawsuits were consolidated in Colorado and the case proceeded to trial. The jury rejected South Jersey’s claims, finding South Jersey breached the contract and Antero was entitled to $60 million damages. South Jersey argued on appeal the district court erred in denying its motion for judgment in its favor as a matter of law, or, alternatively, that the court erred in instructing the jury. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding a reasonable jury could find South Jersey breached its contract with Antero because the Index was not discontinued nor did it materially change. Furthermore, the Court found no defects in the jury instructions. View "Antero Resources Corp. v. South Jersey Resources Group" on Justia Law