Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

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The case involves the estate of Bud Conyers seeking a relator’s share of the proceeds from a settlement between the United States and military contractor Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) under the False Claims Act (FCA). Conyers, a former KBR truck driver, had filed a qui tam suit alleging various fraudulent activities by KBR, including the use of mortuary trailers for supplies, kickbacks for defective trucks, and billing for prostitutes. The government later intervened in Conyers’s suit but pursued different claims involving KBR employees Mazon, Seamans, and Martin, who were involved in separate kickback schemes.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas awarded Conyers’s estate approximately $1.1 million, finding a “factual overlap” between Conyers’s allegations and the settled claims, particularly with Martin’s kickback scheme involving trucks. The court reasoned that Conyers’s allegations had put the government on notice of fraud in trucking contracts, which arguably led to the investigation of Martin. The district court also ordered the government to pay Conyers’s attorney’s fees.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed the case and reversed the district court’s decision. The appellate court held that under the FCA, a relator is entitled to a share only of the settlement of the claim he brought, not additional claims added by the government. The court found no relevant factual overlap between Conyers’s claims and the settled claims involving Mazon, Seamans, and Martin. The court also rejected the district court’s reasoning that Conyers’s allegations spurred the investigation into Martin’s misconduct, noting that the FCA does not entitle a relator to recover from new claims discovered by the government. Consequently, the Fifth Circuit concluded that Conyers’s estate was not entitled to any share of the settlement proceeds and reversed the award of attorney’s fees. View "USA v. Conyers" on Justia Law

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Jill and Grant Wiese were married for nearly 30 years before their marriage was dissolved in 2016. They had a premarital agreement (PMA) that kept their assets and earnings separate, with Grant responsible for reasonable support. Jill worked as an independent agent for Grant’s real estate brokerage, receiving 100% of her commissions after deductions for business expenses and estimated taxes. Grant deducted amounts for taxes and personal expenses he believed exceeded his support obligations, but the tax deductions did not match the actual taxes paid, and he did not refund the excess to Jill.The Superior Court of Orange County found the PMA valid and enforceable. Jill then brought claims against Grant for breach of fiduciary duty, arguing that his deductions from her commissions were excessive and impaired her separate property. Grant countered that Jill’s claims were time-barred and meritless. The trial court ruled in Jill’s favor on the tax-withholding claims, awarding her over $1.3 million, but rejected her other claims. Both parties appealed.The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, reviewed the case. It held that Jill’s fiduciary duty claims were subject to a four-year statute of limitations and that most were time-barred. For the surviving claims, the court found Grant breached his fiduciary duty by withholding excessive amounts for taxes but erred in awarding Jill the entire amount withheld rather than the excess. The court also found that Grant’s deductions for personal expenses required reconsideration. It affirmed that Grant was solely liable for the mortgage debt on their jointly owned property but reversed the order requiring Jill to reimburse Grant for housing during their separation. The court remanded for further proceedings, including recalculating damages and reconsidering attorney fees. View "Marriage of Wiese" on Justia Law

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Michigan First Credit Union reimbursed its customers for unauthorized electronic fund transfers resulting from a SIM Swap scam involving T-Mobile USA, Inc. Michigan First sought to recover these funds from T-Mobile, claiming indemnification or contribution under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and state law. The district court dismissed the complaint, ruling that Michigan First failed to state a claim for indemnification or contribution under both the EFTA and state law.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed Michigan First’s claims, finding no basis for indemnification or contribution under the EFTA or state law. Michigan First appealed, arguing that the EFTA implies a right to indemnification or contribution, that the Michigan Electronic Funds Transfer Act (MEFTA) is not preempted by the EFTA, and that its state common-law indemnification claim should stand.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reviewed the case de novo. The court held that the EFTA does not imply a right to indemnification or contribution for financial institutions, as the statute is designed to protect consumers, not financial institutions. The court also found that the EFTA preempts the MEFTA and any state common-law claims for indemnification or contribution, as allowing such claims would conflict with the EFTA’s comprehensive regulatory scheme. Consequently, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Michigan First’s complaint. View "Michigan First Credit Union v. T-Mobile USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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During Winter Storm Uri in 2021, Pioneer Natural Resources invoked a force majeure clause to excuse its failure to deliver natural gas to MIECO, L.L.C., as per their contract. MIECO sued for damages, arguing that Pioneer improperly invoked the clause. The federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of Pioneer, ruling that the force majeure clause was correctly invoked and did not require Pioneer to show that the storm made performance literally impossible. The court also held that Pioneer’s “gas supply” referred only to gas it regularly produced from the Permian Basin, not substitute gas available on the spot market.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas initially reviewed the case. The court found that the force majeure clause was unambiguous and did not require Pioneer to purchase available spot market gas. It rejected MIECO’s argument that a force majeure event must render performance literally impossible and that “Seller’s gas supply” included spot market gas. The court granted summary judgment for Pioneer, dismissing MIECO’s breach of contract claim.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed the case on appeal. The appellate court affirmed the district court’s interpretation of the force majeure clause, agreeing that it did not require performance to be literally impossible and that “Seller’s gas supply” referred only to gas produced from the Permian Basin. However, the appellate court found that the district court erred by not addressing whether Pioneer exercised due diligence to overcome the storm’s impact. The appellate court held that genuine disputes of material fact remained regarding whether Pioneer made reasonable efforts to avoid the adverse impacts of the storm. Consequently, the appellate court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings to resolve these factual disputes. View "Mieco, L.L.C. v. Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Incorporated" on Justia Law

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Samuel Boytor, an engineer and businessman, and his wife Carol, defaulted on loans they had personally guaranteed. They entered into a settlement agreement with EFS Bank’s successor, restructuring their debt into three new promissory notes secured by mortgages on their properties. PNC Bank, which eventually held these notes, filed a complaint in 2018 against the Boytors for defaulting on two of the notes. PNC sought foreclosure on the Boytors’ residential property and a money judgment for the nonpayment of a separate note.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held a bench trial and found in favor of PNC on both counts. The court ordered foreclosure on the Boytors’ residential property and issued a deficiency judgment after the property was sold. The Boytors appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The appellate court held that PNC had established a prima facie case for foreclosure by presenting the mortgage and underlying note. The Boytors’ affirmative defenses, including lack of consideration and payment of the notes, were rejected. The court found that the $203,000 note was supported by consideration and that the Boytors had not paid the note. Additionally, the court determined that the $200,000 note was not paid, and the release of the mortgage did not extinguish the underlying debt. The court also rejected the Boytors’ argument of accord and satisfaction, finding no evidence of a new arrangement to pay less than the outstanding debt. View "PNC Bank, National Association v. Boytor" on Justia Law

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In late 2003, Wye Oak Technology, Inc., a small American company, entered into a contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense to rebuild Iraq’s military. Wye Oak performed under the contract for nearly five months, but Iraq refused to pay and instead gave the money to another party. When Wye Oak’s owner traveled to Iraq to resolve the payment issue, he was killed by unidentified assailants. Wye Oak eventually ceased operations in Iraq and later sued Iraq in a U.S. federal district court for breach of contract.The United States District Court for the District of Columbia found Iraq liable after a bench trial and awarded Wye Oak over $120 million in damages. The court initially held that it had jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) based on the commercial exception’s second clause. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated this judgment, ruling that the second clause did not apply and remanded the case to determine if the third clause of the commercial exception applied. On remand, the district court found that Iraq’s breach had direct effects in the United States, thus reentering its damages order.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reviewed the case and concluded that Iraq’s breach did not cause a direct effect in the United States as required by the FSIA’s commercial exception. The court noted that the contract and its breach were centered in Iraq, and any effects in the United States were too attenuated or involved intervening elements. Consequently, the court held that Iraq was immune from suit, vacated the district court’s judgment, and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss. View "Wye Oak Technology, Inc. v. Republic of Iraq" on Justia Law

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Kalvin Earl Richardson purchased a house in St. Louis County, Missouri, through a Post Third Sale Offering, a process for selling tax-delinquent properties that have not been sold in three consecutive annual tax-collection auctions. Richardson then applied for homeowner insurance from Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, stating on the application that the property was not purchased at a public auction. After a fire damaged the house, Nationwide refused to pay the claim, asserting that Richardson had misrepresented the purchase method. Nationwide sued, claiming the policy was void due to this misrepresentation.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri granted summary judgment in favor of Nationwide. The court ruled that the Post Third Sale Offering constituted a public auction and that Richardson's contrary statement on the insurance application was a material misrepresentation, rendering the insurance policy void ab initio.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the case de novo. The appellate court found that the term "public auction" was not clearly defined in Nationwide's insurance application and that the Post Third Sale Offering did not meet the ordinary understanding of a public auction, which typically involves competitive bidding. The court noted that Missouri statutes and case law emphasize competition among bidders as a key element of a public auction, which was absent in the Post Third Sale Offering. Consequently, the court held that Nationwide did not meet its burden to prove that Richardson's representation was false in fact. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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A commercial tenant and landlord entered into a contract for the construction and lease of a warehouse, with the landlord also acting as the general contractor. The contract included a waiver of subrogation, where both parties waived subrogation against each other for certain losses, including those caused by their subcontractors. After the warehouse sustained weather damage, the tenant’s insurer sought to recoup insurance payments by suing the subcontractors.The Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted summary judgment in favor of the subcontractors, concluding that they were intended beneficiaries of the waiver of subrogation in the contract between the tenant and landlord. The court did not consider any extrinsic evidence regarding the parties' intent. The Appellate Court of Maryland reversed this decision, finding that the waiver of subrogation in the contract did not unambiguously benefit the subcontractors and that the subcontractors were not intended third-party beneficiaries.The Supreme Court of Maryland reviewed the case and held that the waiver of subrogation in the contract between the tenant and landlord did not extend to the subcontractors. The court found that the language of the waiver was unambiguous and did not show an intent to benefit the subcontractors. However, the court found that the waiver of subrogation included in the subcontracts was ambiguous regarding whether it applied to the tenant’s insurer’s claims against the subcontractors. Therefore, the court held that extrinsic evidence was needed to determine the parties' intent regarding the scope of the subrogation waiver in the subcontracts.The Supreme Court of Maryland affirmed the Appellate Court's decision, reversing the Circuit Court's summary judgment in favor of the subcontractors, and remanded the case for further proceedings to consider extrinsic evidence. View "Lithko Contracting v. XL Insurance America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Avantax Wealth Management, Inc. (Avantax) entered into a contract with Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. (Marriott) to host its 2021 annual conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The contract included a force majeure clause allowing termination if circumstances beyond control made it illegal or impossible to use the hotel facilities. Due to COVID-19, local health authorities imposed restrictions on gatherings, which Avantax argued made it impossible to hold the conference as planned. Avantax terminated the contract in March 2021, citing these restrictions.The United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee granted summary judgment in favor of Avantax, concluding that Avantax had validly terminated the contract under the force majeure clause. The court found that the COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time made it impossible to hold the conference as specified in the contract. Marriott's motion for summary judgment was denied.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the force majeure clause allowed termination based on the prospective illegality or impossibility of performance, as determined at the time of termination. The court found that Avantax had reasonable grounds to conclude that the conference could not proceed as planned due to the COVID-19 restrictions forecasted by local health authorities. The court also determined that Avantax provided timely notice of termination within the required ten-day period after learning of the basis for termination. Thus, the district court's grant of summary judgment to Avantax was affirmed. View "Avantax Wealth Management, Inc v. Marriott Hotel Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Dr. John Insall, an orthopedic surgeon, developed and patented knee replacement devices, which he licensed to Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc. In return, Zimmer agreed to pay royalties to Insall, and later to his estate after his death. When Insall’s last patent expired in 2018, Zimmer ceased royalty payments, claiming the obligation had ended. The dispute was submitted to arbitration, where the Estate prevailed. Zimmer then sought to vacate the arbitration award in district court, arguing that continuing royalty payments violated public policy. The district court confirmed the arbitration award.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois reviewed the case. Zimmer argued that the arbitration award should be vacated based on public policy grounds, citing Supreme Court decisions in Brulotte v. Thys Co. and Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC, which prohibit collecting royalties on expired patents. The district court rejected Zimmer’s argument and confirmed the arbitration award, leading to Zimmer’s appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court emphasized the limited scope of judicial review over arbitration awards under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The court found that the arbitration panel had correctly interpreted the 1998 amendments to the agreement, which untethered the royalty payments from the patents themselves, making them based on the marketing and branding of the NexGen Knee products. Consequently, the court held that the arbitration award did not violate public policy as outlined in Brulotte and Kimble. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision and confirmed the arbitration award in favor of Insall’s Estate. View "Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc. v. Insall" on Justia Law