Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law

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In the first case in “a long‐running and acrimonious business dispute,” Lardas claimed fraudulent inducement and breach of contract, arising from a settlement agreement, which Lardas argued was intended to deprive her nephew (Christofalos) of his ownership interest in Wauconda Shopping Center (WSC). The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of Lardas’s case without prejudice, finding that Lardas lacked standing. Lardas had transferred her ownership in a predecessor entity to Christofalos. The second case involves Christofalos’s bankruptcy, in which the court authorized the sale of his interest in WSC (11 U.S.C. 363(b)). The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal as moot because the sale has been consummated and third parties have acted in reliance. Christofalos also challenged the denial of a discharge, based on a bankruptcy court finding under 11 U.S.C. 727(a)(4)(A), which authorizes denial of discharge where the debtor has “knowingly and fraudulently … made a false oath or account.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Christofalos made a “host of false statements and omissions.” The court also affirmed denial of Christofalos’s “Motion to Reopen Case and Assign a Receiver” in Lardas’s case. View "Christofalos v. Grcic" on Justia Law

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Richard, Father, Mother, and sister (Kathryn) formed the family Corporation in 1990. Under its articles of incorporation and bylaws, each family member served as a lifetime director. Mother died in 2000. In 2010, the remaining family members elected Phyllis to a three-year term on the board. Father died in 2010. Phyllis’s term expired in 2013. Under Indiana Code 23-17-12-3, a nonprofit corporation must be governed at all times by at least three directors. Richard claimed that when Phyllis’s term expired, the Corporation was no longer lawfully constituted and the two remaining board members could not act on the Corporation’s behalf or exercise corporate powers. Indiana law provides that when a nonprofit director’s term expires without further action by the board: “the director continues to serve until … a successor is elected, designated, or appointed and qualifies.” That language is reflected in the Corporation’s bylaws and the 2010 resolution appointing Phyllis to the board. Kathryn and Phyllis voted in 2013 to elect Phyllis to a second term. The board then took several actions over Richard’s objections, including authorizing gifts to Saint Francis (on whose board Kathryn also serves) and electing Kathryn’s son as a fourth board member. Richard filed suit, as an individual and derivatively. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. Under Indiana law, only a shareholder or member of a corporation may bring a derivative action on the corporation’s behalf. Richard is neither a shareholder nor a member. The Corporation’s articles of incorporation provide that it “shall have no members.” Richard’s purported individual claims for money judgment belong to the Corporation and his other individual claims failed on their merits. View "Doermer v. Callen" on Justia Law

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Gubala subscribed to Time Warner’s cable services in 2004 and, as required, provided Time Warner with his date of birth, address, telephone numbers, social security number, and credit card information. In 2006, he cancelled his subscription. In 2014, upon inquiring, Gubala learned that all of his personal information remained in the company’s possession; none had been destroyed. Gubala filed a class-action suit for alleged violations of the Cable Communications Policy Act, 47 U.S.C. 551(e), which provides that a cable operator “shall destroy personally identifiable information if the information is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected and there are no pending requests or orders for access to such information [either by a cable subscriber, seeking access to his own information] … or pursuant to a court order.” The district judge dismissed the suit for lack of standing, stating that even if Gubala had standing, he failed to state a claim. He could not obtain an injunction, the only remedy he sought, because he had an adequate remedy at law (damages), but did not seek damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the lack of any concrete injury inflicted or likely to be inflicted on Gubala precluded the relief sought. View "Gubala v. Time Warner Cable, Inc." on Justia Law

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WCPP is a risk purchasing group for commercial property insurance. MGSA, an insurance broker, acts as WCPP’s program administrator, representing more than 600 properties. In 2011, MGSA sought renewal coverage for the WCPP properties. MGSA contracted with MC, which engaged NCAIG, which had previous insurance‐placement experience with Ward and his company JRSO. The chain of brokers for the WCPP renewal was: from MGSA, to MC, to NCAIG, to Ward and JRSO. In reality, Ward had created a fictitious policy for WCPP that was not actually backed by a legitimate insurer. Ward was convicted of wire fraud, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and ordered to pay restitution. One of the property groups in the WCPP program, Myan, had a history of losses, so MC had split it off from the main WCPP group for placement directly with JRSO for insurance. The Myan coverage used Norman-Spencer as program administrator, at the recommendation of NCAIG. Norman‐Spencer was paid $25,000 and issued policies for Myan’s coverage. Norman-Spencer wanted, but never obtained, additional contracts from WCPP. Norman-Spencer discovered an order issued against Ward and JRSO that could implicate Ward’s ability to bind coverage and, when Norman asked for a copy of Ward’s reinsurance agreement, Ward delayed for over a month and produced an agreement that contained irregularities. Norman‐Spencer did not inform WCPP or MGSA about these problems. None of the proposals or pricing information for WCPP came through Norman‐Spencer. MC and NCAIG received a commission from the WCPP premium; Norman‐Spencer did not. After Ward’s fraud was discovered, MGSA and WCPP sued Norman-Spencer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Norman-Spencer, concluding that Norman-Spencer owed no duty of care to either company. View "M.G. Skinner and Associates v. Norman-Spencer Agency, Inc" on Justia Law

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Dana had a dealer agreement in Texas with AISCO. Unbeknownst to Dana, AISCO sold off most of its assets to newly-formed DanMar, which transferred the assets to UJoints. The name “UJoints” had been a trade name used by AISCO. Under Texas Business and Commerce Coe 57.154(a)(4), “a supplier may not terminate a dealer agreement without good cause.” Good cause exists “if there has been a sale or other closeout of a substantial part of the dealer’s assets related to the business.” Dana terminated the agreement, preventing UJoints from claiming to have been authorized to step into AISCO’s shoes and become a Dana dealer in Texas. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Dana, finding that the transfers gave Dana good cause to terminate its dealer agreement with AISCO. The court rejected an argument that Dana entered into a “dealer agreement,” with the “new, unknown entity the identity of which the owners had concealed from Dana for a significant time.” It was natural for Dana to continue selling, for a time, to its dealer’s, AISCO’s, successor—UJoints. Those sales did not make UJoints a party to a dealer agreement. View "Texas Ujoints LLC v. Dana Holding Corp." on Justia Law

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Micrins Surgical went out of business in 2009, without paying all of its taxes. Eriem Surgical was incorporated the same day, purchased Micrins’ inventory, took over its office space, hired its employees, used its website and phone number, and pursued the same line of business, selling surgical instruments. Teitz, the president and 40% owner of Micrins, continued to play a leading role in Eriem, though its sole stockholder is Teitz’s wife. Eriem uses “Micrins” as a trademark. The IRS treated Eriem as a continuation of Micrins and collected almost $400,000 of Micrins’ taxes from Eriem’s bank accounts and receivables. Eriem filed wrongful levy suit, 26 U.S.C. 7426(a)(1). The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment in favor of the IRS, concluding that Eriem is a continuation of Micrins. The Supreme Court has never decided whether state or federal law governs corporate successorship when the dispute concerns debts to the national government; the Internal Revenue Code says nothing about corporate successorship. Illinois law uses a multi‐factor balancing standard to determine successorship. Rejecting an argument that the change in ownership should be dispositive, the court upheld the district court’s conclusion that Mrs. Teitz serves is proxy for her husband, so that there has not been a complete change of ownership. View "Eriem Surgical, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit against their former employer, alleging violations of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA), and other state wage payment statutes, including the New York Labor Law and California Labor Code. They claimed that Medline’s practice of accounting for year-to-year sales declines in calculating and paying commissions was impermissible under the terms of their employment agreements and state wage laws. The district court granted Medline summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs had not performed enough work in Illinois for the IWPCA to apply and that Medline and the plaintiffs had agreed to Medline’s method of calculating commissions, so there was no violation of state wage laws. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Medline’s commission structure is consistent with the written agreements. The court rejected an argument that the structure was, nonetheless, a per se violation of New York and California labor law because it impermissibly recoups Medline’s business losses from its Sales Representatives, even when those losses are outside Sales Representatives’ control. Medline’s inclusion of negative growth in its commission calculation was not an unlawful deduction in disguise, but rather a valid means of incentivizing their salespeople to grow business in their assigned territories. View "Cohan v. Medline Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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NMEPT, a joint venture, was formed to sell environmental equipment in China. Nalco owned 55% of the venture, Chen 40%, and a third party 5%. When NMEPT encountered business problems, Nalco paid its creditor and sued Chen for his 40% share of the outlay. The district court awarded Nalco more than $2 million, rejecting Chen's counterclaim that Nalco’s subsidiary, NMI, had caused the joint venture to borrow $300,000 without Chen's approval, even though the agreement required all investors’ consent for borrowing. Chen also claimed that the creditor petitioned the joint venture into bankruptcy under Chinese law, on behalf of NMI, in an effort to avoid a clause requiring the investors’ unanimous consent for bankruptcy proceedings. Nalco wanted to wind up the unprofitable venture, but Chen preferred to keep it alive (if dormant) to protect its intellectual property. Chen did not appeal, but filed a new suit in China, against Mobotec. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an injunction, prohibiting Chen from pursuing the Chinese litigation. Rejecting an argument that Mobotec was not a party to and could not benefit from the Illinois judgment, the court stated: “That would be a questionable proposition even if Mobotec were a distinct entity, for federal courts no longer require mutuality in civil litigation.” The district court found that NMI and Mobotec are the same entity. View "Nalco Co. v. Chen" on Justia Law

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From 1992-2013, a Milwaukee ordinance limited taxicab permits to those in existence on January 1, 1992 that were renewed. The ordinance lowered the ceiling over time by virtue of the nonrenewals. By 2013 the number of permits had diminished from 370 to 320. The price of permits on the open market soared as high as $150,000. In 2013, after a successful equal protection and substantive due process challenge, the city conducted a lottery, which attracted 1700 permit seekers. Milwaukee had only one taxicab per 1850 city residents, a much lower ratio than comparable cities. The city eliminated the cap in 2014. In the meantime, “ridesharing” companies such as Uber, had diminished the profitability of the existing taxi companies. Plaintiffs, cab companies, alleged that the increased number of permits has taken property without compensation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. The taxi companies were aware that there was no guarantee that the ordinance would remain in force indefinitely, and that, were it repealed, they would be faced with new competition that would threaten their profits. The ordinance gave them no property right; its repeal invaded no right conferred by the Constitution. The court similarly rejected state-law claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and equitable estoppel. View "Joe Sanfelippo Cabs, Inc. v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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Darren's parents began operating S&N Fireworks in the 1970s and obtained a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) license (18 U.S.C. 842(f)) to import explosives. Darren founded DCV in 2004, intending to eventually buy out S&N. DCV shared S&N’s Lincoln, Illinois place of business and obtained its own ATF import license. From 2004-2011, S&N ordered fireworks from DCV, which imported them from China and immediately transferred them to S&N, which packaged and sold fireworks for shows. Darren was employed by S&N and was listed as a “responsible person” on S&N’s license. DCV was not storing any explosives during this period and had no ATF violations. S&N, however, was cited for numerous violations in a 2006 inspection, relating to records and storage of fireworks. A 2009 inspection revealed multiple violations. Darren attended a meeting and signed a report acknowledging the violations. ATF notified S&N that its license would not be renewed. S&N voluntarily surrendered its license. DCV bought out S&N’s inventory, equipment, and contracts Darren delegated substantial responsibility to his brother, who had been responsible for many of S&N’s problems. ATF inspected in 2013, found multiple violations, and notified Darren that it did not intend to renew DCV’s license. DCV argued that its violations should not be deemed willful given its perfect compliance record before 2013. The agency responded that S&N and DCV were essentially the same operation and equated the S&N violations with DCV. After a hearing, the license was not renewed. The Seventh Circuit upheld the decision as supported by substantial evidence. View "D.C.V. Imports, L.L.C. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives" on Justia Law