Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Prince v. Appleton Auto LLC
Applecars is a member of a network of Wisconsin used-car dealerships. McCormick owned a majority share in each dealership. Each dealership received management services from Capital M, which McCormick also owned. Capital M tracked shared dealership inventory, held employee records, and issued identical employee handbooks for each dealership; Capital M’s operations manager hired and fired each dealership’s general manager. The employees of each dealership gathered as one for events several times per year. The dealerships advertised on a single website, which included some language suggesting a single entity and some indicators that each dealership is a separate entity. Each dealership properly maintained corporate formalities and records. Capital M billed each dealership separately. Each dealership had a distinct general manager, bank accounts, and financial reports. The dealerships separately filed and paid taxes, paid employees, and entered into contracts.Prince worked at Applecars for several months before he was fired. Prince claims his firing was retaliatory and sued Applecars and its affiliates for racial discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The court granted the defendants summary judgment, noting that Applecars had fewer than 15 employees and was not subject to Title VII. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There is insufficient evidence to support Prince’s theory that the court should pierce the corporate veil of the network, aggregating the number of employees such that Title VII would apply. View "Prince v. Appleton Auto LLC" on Justia Law
Continental Vineyard LLC v. Dzierzawski
Dzierzawski was vice-president of Forsyth's vineyard company. When Forsythe declined an opportunity to produce a custom wine for the Meijer grocery chain, Dzierzawski formed Vinifera and began doing business with Meijer, while continuing to work for Forsythe. Forsythe eventually became aware of the scope of Dzierzawski’s operation and filed suit.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Dzierzawski on the corporate opportunity theory. A jury found Dzierzawski liable on the unfair competition contention but rejected unjust enrichment, fiduciary duty, and breach of the duty of good faith theories. The jury left the damages section on the verdict form blank. The court polled the jurors, who unanimously responded that it was their intention to award no damages. Forsyth did not object to the verdict at that time but later moved for a new trial. The court denied that motion but granted Forsyth’s request for disgorgement as alternative relief, and ordered Dzierzawski to pay $285,731, reasoning that “the jury’s verdict is merely advisory on the issue of equitable disgorgement, as it is an equitable remedy to be imposed by the Court.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The evidence does not support that Dzierzawski stole a corporate opportunity from his company and there was no reversible error in the disgorgement order. View "Continental Vineyard LLC v. Dzierzawski" on Justia Law
Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.
Without permission from Epic, TCS downloaded thousands of documents containing Epic’s confidential information and trade secrets. TCS used some of the information to create a “comparative analysis”—a spreadsheet comparing TCS’s health-record software (Med Mantra) to Epic’s software. TCS’s internal communications show that TCS used this spreadsheet in an attempt to enter the U.S. health-record-software market, steal Epic’s client, and address key gaps in TCS’s own Med Mantra software.Epic sued. A jury ruled in Epic’s favor on all claims, including multiple Wisconsin tort claims. The jury then awarded Epic $140 million in compensatory damages, for the benefit TCS received from using the comparative-analysis spreadsheet; $100 million for the benefit TCS received from using Epic’s other confidential information; and $700 million in punitive damages for TCS’s conduct. The district court upheld the $140 million compensatory award and vacated the $100 million award. It reduced the punitive damages award to $280 million, reflecting Wisconsin’s statutory punitive-damages cap. The Seventh Circuit remanded. There is sufficient evidence for the jury’s $140 million verdict based on TCS’s use of the comparative analysis, but not for the $100 million verdict for uses of “other information.” The jury could punish TCS by imposing punitive damages, but the $280 million punitive damages award is constitutionally excessive. View "Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd." on Justia Law
Smart Oil, LLC v. DW Mazel, LLC
DWM agreed to purchase 30 gasoline station-convenience stores from Smart for $67 million. It was understood that it was a "flip" because Smart did not yet own the properties. Both parties were represented by counsel. The Agreement requires DWM to deposit $300,000 into an escrow account. At the close of the due diligence period, DWM is to pay a second deposit of $450,000. DWM never paid the initial earnest money deposit but the parties continued their due diligence investigations and negotiations. The Agreement requires DWM to provide Smart with written notice to terminate the Agreement if, after its investigations, DWM disapproved of the purchase. If DWM did not provide that written notice, the Agreement states that Smart is entitled to keep the earnest money if the deal falls through. DWM failed to provide notice of disapproval and did not pay the second deposit. In the meantime, Smart executed contracts to acquire the properties. When the DWM-Smart deal fell through, Smart sued DWM for breach of contract, arguing it was entitled to $750,000 in earnest money as liquidated damages. DWM counterclaimed for breach of contract and fraudulent inducement, for failure to provide adequate due diligence materials.The Seventh Circuit affirmed holdings that DWM breached the contract, that DWM’s obligation to pay the earnest money remained, and that Smart was entitled to the earnest money as liquidated damages under Illinois law. View "Smart Oil, LLC v. DW Mazel, LLC" on Justia Law
J.S.T. Corp. v. Foxconn Interconnect Technology, Ltd.
Bosch, an engineering company, asked J.S.T. to design and manufacture a connector that Bosch could incorporate into a part that it builds for GM. For a time, Bosch retained J.S.T. as its sole supplier of those connectors. Then, according to J.S.T., Bosch wrongfully acquired J.S.T.’s proprietary designs and provided them to J.S.T.’s competitors, who used the stolen designs to build knockoff connectors and eventually to displace J.S.T. from its role as Bosch’s supplier. After filing various lawsuits against Bosch, J.S.T. filed suit in Illinois against the competitors, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and unjust enrichment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The competitors’ only link to Illinois is that they sell their connectors to Bosch, knowing that the connectors will end up in GM cars and parts that are sold in Illinois. For personal jurisdiction to exist, though, there must be a causal relationship between the competitors’ dealings in Illinois and the claims that J.S.T. has asserted against them. No such causal relationship exists. View "J.S.T. Corp. v. Foxconn Interconnect Technology, Ltd." on Justia Law
Timothy B. O’Brien LLC v. Knott
Apple owns Madison, Wisconsin vitamin stores. Knott, a former Apple employee, was fired in 2017. Knott founded his own vitamin shop, Embrace Wellness, in Middleton, Wisconsin. Embrace allegedly shared design features and a similar layout with Apple’s locations and carried comparable products. Apple sued, alleging infringement of its trademark, trade dress, and copyrights. The defendants filed counterclaims for tortious interference and retaliation. Apple sought a preliminary injunction on the trademark and trade dress claims, which the court denied, explaining that Apple had failed to show a likelihood of irreparable harm. Apple then moved to dismiss its own claims without prejudice. Because the defendants had already expended resources litigating an injunction, the court ordered Apple to withdraw its motion or accept dismissal with prejudice, expressing its opinion that no party’s claim was strong. Apple agreed to dismiss its claims with prejudice.The court subsequently denied defendants’ motion for fees; they appealed with respect to the copyright claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Apple’s copyright claims were frivolous—common-law copyright was abolished in 1976—but the totality of the circumstances did not warrant fees. There was no evidence that Apple had filed suit with an improper motive, and no need to deter future frivolous filings. The case was primarily about trademark and trade dress. no motions were filed related to copyright. Apple dismissed the copyright claims voluntarily before defendants had to argue against them. View "Timothy B. O'Brien LLC v. Knott" on Justia Law
R3 Composites Corp. v. G&S Sales Corp.
G&S had a written contract to work as a representative for a manufacturer, R3. The critical term dealing with sales commissions did not show any agreement on commission rates. It said that the parties would try to agree on commission rates on a job-by-job, customer-by-customer basis. While the original 2011 “agreement to agree” would not have been enforceable by itself, the parties did later agree on commission rates for each customer and went forward with their business. In 2014, changes made by customers in their ordering procedures led to disputes about commissions.The district court granted summary judgment for R3, relying primarily on the original failure to agree on commission rates. The Seventh Circuit reversed. A reasonable jury could find that the later job-by-job commission agreements were governed by the broader terms of the original written contract. The rest of the case is “rife with factual disputes that cannot be resolved on summary judgment.” View "R3 Composites Corp. v. G&S Sales Corp." on Justia Law
Molson Coors Beverage Co. v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC
In 2019, Anheuser-Busch began to advertise that its beer, Bud Light, is made using rice, while Miller Lite and Coors Light use corn syrup as a source of sugar that yeast ferments into alcohol. Molson Coors responded by advertising that its beers taste be]er because of the difference between rice and corn syrup. In a lawsuit, Molson contended that Anheuser-Busch violated section 43 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, by implying that a product made from corn syrup also contains corn syrup. After a remand, the district court issued an injunction.The Seventh Circuit affirmed to the extent that the order denied Molson’s request for an injunction and reversed to the extent that the Bud Light advertising or packaging was enjoined. To the extent that the injunction prevents Anheuser-Busch from stating that Miller Lite or Coors Light “contain” corn syrup, it was vacated; Anheuser-Busch has never stated this nor said that it wants to do so but only made the true statement that “their beer is made using corn syrup and ours isn’t.” View "Molson Coors Beverage Co. v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC" on Justia Law
Quincy Bioscience, LLC v. Ellishbooks
Quincy develops and sells dietary supplements. Its Prevagen® product is sold through brick‐and‐mortar stores and online. Quincy registered its Prevagen® trademark in 2007. Ellishbooks, which was not authorized to sell Prevagen® products, sold dietary supplements identified as Prevagen® on Amazon.com, including items that were in altered or damaged packaging; lacked the appropriate purchase codes or other markings that identify the authorized retail seller of the product; and contained Radio Frequency Identification tags and security tags from retail stores. Quincy sued under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114. Ellishbooks did not answer the complaint. Ellishbooks opposed Quincy’s motion for default judgment, arguing that it had not been served properly and its Amazon.com products were “different and distinct” from the Quincy products The court entered default judgment, finding that Quincy had effected “legally adequate service.” Ellishbooks identified no circumstances capable of establishing good cause for default. Quincy had subpoenaed and submitted documents from Amazon.com establishing that Ellishbooks had received $480,968.13 in sales from products sold as Prevagen®.The district court entered a $480,968.13 judgment in favor of Quincy, plus costs, and permanently enjoined Ellishbooks from infringing upon the PREVAGEN® trademark and selling stolen products bearing the PREVAGEN® trademark. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court failed to make “factual findings on decisive issues” and erred in holding that Ellishbook knew or had reason to know that a portion of the Prevagen® products were stolen. View "Quincy Bioscience, LLC v. Ellishbooks" on Justia Law
Skyrise Construction Group LLC v. Annex Construction LLC
Skyrise bid $950,000 to supply “stick building” rough frame carpentry for building housing units near the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Upon receiving a letter of intent from Annex, the general contractor, to enter into a contract, Skyrise blocked the project on its calendar and declined other work. Skyrise delayed returning the actual proposed contract for two months. Amex rejected Skyrise’s subsequent proposals for a broader scope of work and a different payment plan and awarded the carpentry contract to another firm. Skyrise sued for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, negligent misrepresentation, violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and violation of the Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Practices Act.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Although the parties signed various proposals during their negotiations, no contract formed. The undisputed, objective evidence demonstrates that both parties intended for their relationship to be governed by a detailed contract that remained under review until Skyrise ultimately rejected that contract by making material alterations. Skyrise knew or should have known, that the negotiations could fall apart before the parties entered into a binding agreement. Annex never represented to Skyrise that it had the framing subcontract. View "Skyrise Construction Group LLC v. Annex Construction LLC" on Justia Law