Articles Posted in Business Law

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Wine & Canvas (W&C) hosts “painting nights.” Patrons, following a teacher’s instructions, create a painting while enjoying wine. W&C operated in Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Oklahoma City. Muylle signed a license agreement, moved to San Francisco, and opened a W&C operation. W&C’s executives were present and taught the first class, worked with Muylle to approve paintings for use, gave Muylle company email addresses, and advertised the San Francisco operation on the W&C website. Disagreements arose. Muylle gave notice to terminate the agreement, changed the business name to “Art Uncorked,” and ceased using the W&C name and marks. W&C alleged trademark infringement, 15 U.S.C. 1051. Muylle’s counterclaims invoked California franchise law, federal trademark cancellation. and Indiana abuse of process law. Plaintiffs failed to meet discovery deadlines, despite being sanctioned three times. The Seventh Circuit affirmed: dismissal of the California law counterclaims; W&C's summary judgment on Muylle’s trademark cancellation counterclaim; Muylle's summary judgment on trademark dilution, sale of counterfeit items, unfair competition, bad faith, tortious conduct, abuse of process, breach of contract, fraud, and a claim under the Indiana Crime Victims Act; and Muylle's partial summary judgment on trademark infringement. Through November 18, 2011, W&C impliedly consented to Muylle’s using the marks. On claims of trademark infringement and false designation of origin (for any use after November 18, 2011), and Muylle’s abuse of process counterclaim, the court affirmed awards to Muylle of $270,000 on his counterclaim and $175,882.68 in fees. View "Wine & Canvas Development, LLC v. Muylle" on Justia Law

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Emerald had an Illinois gaming license to operate in East Dubuque. Emerald operated profitably in 1993 but then struggled to compete with an Iowa casino. By 1996, Emerald had closed the casino and was lobbying for an act that would allow it to relocate. The Board denied Emerald’s license renewal application. While an appeal was pending, 230 ILCS 10/11.2 was enacted, permitting relocation. In 1998, before the enactment, defendants met with Rosemont’s mayor and representatives of Rosemont corporations about moving to Rosemont. After the enactment, the parties memorialized the terms of Emerald’s relocation. Emerald did not disclose the agreements as required by Illinois Gaming Board rules. By October 1999, Emerald had contracts with construction companies and architecture firms but had not disclosed them. Emerald altered its ownership structure; several new “investors” had connections to Rosemont’s mayor and state representative. stock transfers occurred without required Board approval. In 2001, the Board voted to revoke Emerald’s license. Its 15-month investigation was apparently based on a belief that Emerald had associated with organized crime but the denial notice focused on inadequate disclosures. The Board listed five counts but did not list who was responsible for which violation. Illinois courts affirmed the revocation but held that the Board had not proven an association with organized crime. Emerald was forced into bankruptcy. The trustee sued the defendants, asserting breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. The district court dismissed the breach‐of‐fiduciary‐duty claim as time-barred. The Shareholder’s Agreement required that shareholders comply with IGB rules; the court held that each defendant had violated at least one rule, calculated damages by valuing Emerald’s license, and held all but one defendant severally liable for the loss. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the defendants should be held jointly and severally liable, but otherwise affirmed. View "Estate of Pedersen v. Gecker" on Justia Law

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General Motors (GM), represented by the Mayer Brown law firm, entered into secured transactions in which JP Morgan acted as agent for two different groups of lenders. The first loan (structured as a secured lease) was made in 2001 and the second in 2006. In 2008, the 2001 secured lease was paid off, which required the lenders to release their security interests in the collateral securing the transaction. The closing papers for that payoff accidentally also terminated the lenders’ security interests in the collateral securing the 2006 loan. No one noticed—not Mayer Brown and not JP Morgan’s counsel. When GM filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, GM and JP Morgan noticed the error. Plaintiffs, members of the consortium of lenders on the 2006 loan, were not informed until years later. Plaintiffs sued GM’s law firm, Mayer Brown. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, holding that Mayer Brown did not owe plaintiffs a duty. The court rejected arguments that JP Morgan was a client of Mayer Brown in unrelated matters and thus not a third‐party non‐client; even if JP Morgan was a third‐party non‐client, Mayer Brown assumed a duty to JP Morgan by drafting the closing documents; and the primary purpose of the GM‐Mayer Brown relationship was to influence JP Morgan. View "Oakland Police & Fire Retirement System v. Mayer Brown, LLP" on Justia Law

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Freight entering the port of Savannah was trucked to Schneider Logistic’s building, unloaded on one side, sorted, and reloaded on the other side of the building onto outgoing trucks; such reloading is called “cross-docking.” Scheider hired Prime to do the cross‐docking work. Prime was usually not paid timely and not paid enough to break even. Prime complained about that and about a lack of communication from Schneider concerning assignments. Schneider’s failed, without explanation, to pay Prime $82,464.71 for services rendered. Prime removed its employees from Schneider’s Savannah building; and filed suit for $289,059.95. Schneider responded that Prime’s repudiation of the contract had caused Schneider damages of $853,401.49. A jury found that Prime had repudiated its contract but that Schneider had no damages. Schneider successfully sought a new trial under FRCP 59, limited to damages, in the “interest of justice.” A second jury awarded Schneider $853,401.49. reduced to $564,341.54. The Seventh Circuit vacated. A rational jury could find that a zero damages award would fairly compensate Schneider. The first jury may have concluded that Schneider had failed to mitigate its damages by paying Prime what it owed, “peanuts” to such a large firm as Schneider.. In the second trial, the judge arbitrarily excluded evidence favorable to Prime. View "Prime Choice Services Inc. v. Schneider Logistics Transloading & Distribution, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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Lexington Insurance denied a claim by its insured, Double D Warehouse, for coverage of Double D’s liability to customers for contamination of warehoused products. One basis for denial was that Double D failed to document its warehousing transactions with warehouse receipts, storage agreements, or rate quotations, as required by the policies. PQ was a customer of Double D whose products were damaged while warehoused there. PQ settled its case against Double D by stepping into Double D’s shoes to try to collect on the policies. PQ argued that there were pragmatic reasons to excuse strict compliance with the policy’s terms. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Lexington. PQ accurately claimed that the documentation Double D actually had (bills of lading and an online tracking system) should serve much the same purpose as the documentation required by the policies (especially warehouse receipts), but commercially sophisticated parties agreed to unambiguous terms and conditions of insurance. Courts hold them to those terms. To do otherwise would disrupt the risk allocations that are part and parcel of any contract, but particularly a commercial liability insurance contract. PQ offered no persuasive reason to depart from the plain language of the policies. View "PQ Corp. v. Lexington Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In 1999, the Dribbens purchased a home from the Favres on 42 acres in a four‐parcel development near Saint Louis, Missouri. Davidson represented the Favres in that purchase. Davidson was also one of the developers and owned one parcel. The development has a 30‐acre artificial lake; the dam creating that lake is located on the Dribbens parcel. In a 2006 lawsuit, the Dribbens alleged that Davidson failed to disclose that the original owners/developers had never obtained a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which amounted to fraudulent concealment and consumer fraud. Davidson tendered the suit to Diamond State, which had issued her professional liability errors and omissions policy. In 2011, the Dribbens filed a second suit, alleging a pattern of harassment, intimidation, and interference with the Dribbens’ property rights by the Davidsons. Davidson tendered the 2011 lawsuit to Madison Mutual, which had provided her homeowner’s insurance and umbrella coverage. Diamond State refused to supply a defense to the 2011 litigation. Madison Mutual sought a declaratory judgment that Diamond State has breached its duty to defend in the 2011 suit and had a duty to reimburse Madison Mutual. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Diamond State. The 2011 suit does not potentially assert a claim that is plausibly within the Diamond State professional liability coverage. View "Madison Mutual Insurance Co. v. Diamond State Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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APS is a broker for the purchase and sale of accounting practices, working through brokers who are treated as independent contractors and are assigned exclusive sales territories. Burford became an APS broker in 2003, under a contract with a “minimum yearly sales volume” requirement. Burford did not meet this requirement for four consecutive years. In 2010, APS’s owner, Holmes spoke with Burford about his poor performance. Burford failed to meet his minimum yearly sales volume requirements again in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, APS terminated Burford’s contract and reassigned his sales territory. Burford filed suit. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, reasoning that Burford’s contract was terminable at will. On remand, a jury found for APS. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erred by supposedly allowing APS to change the legal theory for its defense in violation of the “mend‐the‐hold” doctrine in Illinois law and abused its discretion by denying admission of an exhibit. The court also rejected an argument that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence on whether APS waived its right to enforce the minimum sales requirement. View "Estate of Burford v. Accounting Practice Sales, Inc" on Justia 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