Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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ADP sells technology products and services and imposes restrictive covenants on its sales employees. At hiring, all employees sign a Sales Representative Agreement (SRA) and a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that prohibit ADP employees from soliciting any ADP “clients, bona fide prospective clients or marketing partners of businesses of [ADP] with which the Employee was involved or exposed” for one year after termination. ADP employees who meet their sales targets are eligible to participate in a stock-option award program, only if they agree to an additional Restrictive Covenant Agreement (RCA), which prohibits employees, for one year following their termination, from soliciting any ADP clients to whom ADP “provides,” “has provided” or “reasonably expects” to provide business within the two-year period following the termination; for one year following their termination, RCA employees will not “participate in any manner with a Competing Business anywhere in the Territory where doing so will require [them] to [either] provide the same or substantially similar services to a Competing Business as those which [they] provided to ADP while employed,” or “use or disclose ADP’s Confidential Information or trade secrets.” Former ADP employees, shortly after leaving ADP, began working for ADP's direct competitor. Each had signed the SRA and NDA and each accepted stock awards under the RCA. ADP sought enforcement of the SRA, NDA, and RCA. The Third Circuit held that the covenants are not unenforceable in their entirety because they serve a legitimate business interest, but they may place an undue hardship on employees because they are overbroad. The court remanded for consideration of whether and to what extent it is necessary to curtail their scope, the approach prescribed by the New Jersey Supreme Court. View "ADP LLC v. Rafferty" on Justia Law

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Multidistrict litigation was formed to handle claims filed by former professional football players against the NFL based on concussion-related injuries. The district court (Judge Brody) approved a settlement agreement, effective January 2017. The Third Circuit affirmed; the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Under the agreement, approximately 200,000 class members surrendered their claims in exchange for proceeds from an uncapped settlement fund. Class members had to submit medical records reflecting a qualifying diagnosis. The Claims Administrator determines whether the applicant qualifies for an award. In March 2017, the claims submission process opened for class members who had been diagnosed with a qualifying illness before January 7, 2017. Other class members had to receive a diagnosis from a practitioner approved through the settlement Baseline Assessment Program (BAP). Class members could register for BAP appointments beginning in June 2017. While waiting to receive their awards, hundreds of class members entered into cash advance agreements with litigation funding companies, purporting to “assign” their rights to settlement proceeds in exchange for immediate cash. Class members did not assign their legal claims against the NFL. Judge Brody retained jurisdiction over the administration of the settlement agreement, which included an anti-assignment provision. Class counsel advised Judge Brody that he was concerned about predatory lending. Judge Brody ordered class members to inform the Claims Administrator of all assignment agreements, and purported to void all such agreements, directing a procedure under which funding companies could accept rescission and return of the principal amount they had advanced. The Third Circuit vacated. Despite having the authority to void prohibited assignments, the court went too far in voiding the cash advance agreements and voiding contractual provisions that went only to a lender’s right to receive funds after the player acquired them. View "In Re: National Football League Players Concussion Injury Litigation." on Justia Law

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Sköld coined the name “Restoraderm” for a proprietary drug-delivery formulation that he developed for potential use in skin-care products. He entered into a 2001 letter of intent with CollaGenex, a skin-care company, stating that “[a]ll trademarks associated with the drug delivery system … shall be applied for and registered in the name of CollaGenex and be the exclusive property of CollaGenex.” Their 2002 contract reiterated those provisions and stated that termination of the agreement would not affect any vested rights. With Sköld’s cooperation, CollaGenex applied to register the Restoraderm mark. Under a 2004 Agreement, Sköld transferred Restoraderm patent rights and goodwill to CollaGenex, without mentioning trademark rights. After Galderma bought CollaGenex it used Restoraderm as a brand name on products employing other technologies. In 2009, Galderma terminated the 2004 Agreement, asserting that it owned the trade name and that Sköld should not use the name. Sköld markets products based on the original Restoraderm technology that do not bear the Restoraderm mark. Galderma’s Restoraderm product line has enjoyed international success. Sköld sued, alleging trademark infringement, false advertising, unfair competition, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. Only Sköld’s unjust enrichment claim was successful. The Third Circuit reversed in part, absolving Galderma of liability. The 2004 agreement, rather than voiding CollaGenex’s ownership of the mark by implication, confirmed that CollaGenex owned the Restoraderm mark. Galderma succeeded to those vested rights. View "Skold v. Galderma Laboratories L.P." on Justia Law

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The Photographers entered into representation agreements with Corbis, a photography agency, providing Corbis authority to sub-license their works to third parties on a non-exclusive, fixed-duration basis. The agreements include forum selection clauses and give Corbis sole authority to make and settle claims for unauthorized use of images. If Corbis declines to bring such a claim within 60 days, the Photographers may bring actions. Corbis sub-licensed their photographs to McGraw-Hill. The invoices included the name of the photographer responsible for the work and incorporated Corbis’ standard “Terms and Conditions,” which included mandatory, exclusive forum selection clauses. The Photographers each brought a copyright action against McGraw-Hill in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. McGraw-Hill moved to transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a), arguing that the disputes implicate the Corbis–McGraw-Hill agreements, under which the proper venue was the Southern District of New York. One judge denied the motion, reasoning that the claims are based purely on copyright law, so the action is not a “dispute regarding th[e] Agreement[s],” and not subject to the forum selection clauses. Another judge reasoned that the copyright claims depend upon the interpretation of the Corbis–McGraw-Hill agreements so that the photographer was subject to the forum selection clause as an intended third-party beneficiary. In consolidated actions, the Third Circuit concluded that the photographers are not bound because they are not intended beneficiaries of the agreements, nor are they closely related parties. Because the erring district court’s mistakes were not clear or indisputable, the court declined to grant mandamus relief. View "In re: McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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Judge had been principal of Oaklyn Elementary School for about three years when she was stopped by a Pennsylvania State Trooper for failing to signal. After acknowledging she had been drinking, Judge asked the trooper to release her because she was concerned about her job. The trooper took Judge to the barracks, where she was given a test, which showed that Judge’s blood alcohol content was .332, more than four times the legal limit. Three weeks later, Judge encountered Superintendent Kelley, who had been advised by school board members about the traffic stop. Kelley wrote: If you do choose to resign then I will offer a neutral reference in the future . . . . [I]n the alternative, if you decide not to resign and DUI charges are filed against you then I will be forced to issue a written statement of charges for dismissal. Judge did not contact a lawyer, although she had retained counsel after her arrest. The next day, Judge presented a letter of resignation, while stating she “was not even charged with DUI yet.” Kelley then handed Judge court documents indicating that she had been charged. Judge sued, asserting deprivations of procedural and substantive due process, violation of equal protection, and breach of contract, based on "constructive discharge." The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of all her claims: Judge was presented with a reasonable alternative to immediate resignation and resigned voluntarily. View "Judge v. Shikellamy School District" on Justia Law

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The Church’s Deacons recommended Lee as pastor under a 20-year agreement, subject to for-cause early termination. If the Church removed Lee without cause, it would be required to pay Lee salary and benefits for the unexpired term. The agreement specified that Lee could be terminated for cause if he “commits any serious moral or criminal offense” or if he became incapacitated; it allowed either party to terminate upon “material breach.” During a 2013 congregation meeting, Lee stated that “just cause” would occur if the Church was "not growing ... stagnant, ... not a better place,” and that “if [he did not] perform [his] duties well, [he would be] out.” Based on these statements, the congregation approved the agreement. In December 2014, Church leaders recommended voiding the employment contract, reporting that from 2013-14, there was a 39% decline in offerings, a 32% drop in Sunday worship attendance, a 61% decrease in registered members, a doubling of expenditures, and a decline in the quality of community outreach. Lee had scheduled but cancelled several meetings to discuss these issues. The congregation voted to terminate Lee’s employment. Lee sued, alleging breach of contract due to termination without cause, seeking $2,643,996.40 in damages. The Third Circuit affirmed rejection of the suit on summary judgment. Adjudication of Lee’s claim would impermissibly entangle the court in religious doctrine in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. View "Lee v. Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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Vanguard offers retail securities brokerage accounts. Its website stated that Vanguard offered a price of “$2 commissions for stock . . . trades” for customers who maintained a balance in Vanguard accounts of $500,000-$1,000,000. The Taksirs, whose holdings met that threshold, used Vanguard to purchase Nokia stock. Vanguard charged them a $7 commission for each of their respective purchases, stating that the Taksirs’ accounts “are not eligible for discounts for trading stocks and other brokerage securities because of IRS nondiscrimination rules” and that “[u]nfortunately, this information is not listed on the Vanguard Brokerage Commission and Fee Schedule.” Weeks later, Orit Taksir acquired additional Nokia stock in the same Vanguard account and was charged a $2 commission. The Taksirs filed a putative class action for fraud or deception under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and breach of contract. The district court dismissed the UTPCPL claim but denied Vanguard’s motion to dismiss the contract claim. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. 78bb, does not bars investors’ claims that their broker overcharged them for the execution of securities transactions. The issue is whether the overcharges constitute “misrepresentation . . . in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security.” The overcharges do not have a “connection that matters” to the securities transactions. View "Taksir v. Vanguard Group" on Justia Law

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Employees at Akers's manufacturing facility were union members, represented by USW under collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). In 2016, Akers was acquired by Ampco. Former Akers employees who had retired but were under age 65 (not eligible for Medicare) then paid $195 per month for their healthcare. Ampco planned to eliminate that benefit for those who had retired before March 2015. The new plan would require retirees to purchase health insurance on the private market and then be reimbursed up to $500 per month for individuals ($700 for families), for five years. Retirees cited a February 2015 memorandum of agreement (MOA), providing that “[c]urrent retirees will remain on their existing Plan ($195.00 monthly premium).” USW filed a grievance. Ampco rejected the grievance, claiming that the Union no longer represented the retirees. USW and Cup, who retired from the plant in 2014, on behalf of a class, filed a non-substantive claim compelling arbitration under the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185; a claim to enforce the CBA; and, alternatively, a claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a). Having ruled in the Union’s favor on the arbitration count, the court dismissed the substantive counts. The Third Circuit stayed enforcement of the arbitration order, then concluded that the dispute is not subject to arbitration under the CBA because retiree health benefits are not covered by the CBA. Retiree health benefits are discussed in the MOA, which was never incorporated into the CBA; whether the omission was was intentional or inadvertent, the contracts must be enforced as written. View "Cup v. Ampco Pittsburgh Corp" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, licensed taxi and limousine operators, sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging an agreement between Newark and Uber as violating their rights under the Takings, Due Process, and Equal Protection Clauses. In order to operate in Newark without taxi medallions or commercial driver’s licenses, setting its own rates, Uber agreed to pay the city $1 million per year for 10 years; to provide $1.5 million in liability insurance for each of its drivers; to have a third-party provider conduct background checks on its drivers. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The agreement places the plaintiffs in an “undoubtedly difficult position” but the situation cannot be remedied through constitutional claims. Even if plaintiffs have a legally cognizable property interest in the medallions themselves, they remain in possession of and able to use their taxi medallions to conduct business. The decrease in the market value of the medallions is not sufficient to constitute a cognizable property interest necessary to state a claim under the Takings Clause. The city controls the number of medallions in circulation and maintains the ability to flood the market with medallions. With respect to equal protection, it is rational for the city to determine that customers require greater protections before accepting a ride from a taxi on the street than before accepting a ride where they are given the relevant information in advance. View "Newark Cab Association v. City of Newark" on Justia Law

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Reading, a Pennsylvania not-for-profit health system, issued auction rate securities (ARSs) to finance capital projects. J.P. Morgan was the underwriter and broker-dealer. Reading claims that J.P. Morgan and others artificially propped up the ARS market through undisclosed support bidding; when they stopped in 2008, the market collapsed. Reading filed state law claims and demanded arbitration with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The 2005 and 2007 broker-dealer agreements state “all actions and proceedings arising out of” the agreements or ARS transactions must be filed in the Southern District of New York. Reading filed a claim under FINRA Rule 12200, which requires a FINRA member (J.P. Morgan) to arbitrate any dispute at the customer’s request. J.P. Morgan refused, arguing that the forum-selection clauses in the 2005 and 2007 broker-dealer agreements constituted a waiver of Reading’s right to arbitrate under Rule 12200. The Third Circuit affirmed the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which resolved the transfer dispute before the arbitrability dispute, declined to transfer the action, and required J.P. Morgan to submit to arbitration. Reading’s right to arbitrate is not contractual but arises out of a binding, regulatory rule, adopted by FINRA and approved by the SEC. Condoning an implicit waiver of Reading’s regulatory right to arbitrate would erode investors’ ability to use a cost-effective means of resolving allegations of misconduct and undermine FINRA’s ability to oversee and remedy such misconduct. View "Reading Health System v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc." on Justia Law