Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Ellison v. United States Postal Service
The Shelbyville Post Office is the closest one to Ellison’s home and the largest in that area of Indiana. Ellison keeps a P.O. box at Shelbyville or her non-profit organization, which educates the public about accessibility for people with disabilities. Ellison cannot enter the Shelbyville Post Office because it has only one customer entrance: at the top of its front steps. Ellison can ask for help from the loading dock or from a van-accessible parking space, use the Postal Service’s website, or visit wheelchair-accessible locations in surrounding towns. After multiple complaints about the inconvenience of those options, the City of Shelbyville offered to pay for a ramp at the front entrance. The Postal Service declined, citing a policy of refusing donations for exterior physical improvements.In a suit under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794(a), the district court entered summary judgment, concluding that Ellison could meaningfully access the program through its website and three wheelchair-accessible locations within a 15-minute drive of her home. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded for consideration of whether Ellison’s proposed accommodation (a ramp) is reasonable. The Shelbyville Post Office does not provide a significant level of access, and the alternative locations are further away and open for fewer hours than Shelbyville. View "Ellison v. United States Postal Service" on Justia Law
Russell v. Zimmer, Inc.
Russell is an orthopedic trauma surgeon who invented numerous products such as bone substitutes and surgical devices. He, along with other inventors were shareholders in CelgenTek, a medical device firm. According to the Inventors, Russell’s creations were game-changers in the field of orthopedics. In 2015, the Inventors entered into an agreement with Zimmer as the exclusive distributor of certain CelgenTek products. CelgenTek was experiencing dire financial problems. Zimmer acquired a 10% ownership of CelgenTek for $2 million and purchased the remaining 90% in 2016. The Inventors retained the right to a small percent of the net yield on the products it developed (earnout products). Zimmer agreed that it would use “Commercially Reasonable Efforts,” as defined in the Agreement, to sell the earnout products. From the date the agreement through 2019, Zimmer paid the Inventors approximately $130,000 in earnout payments. The Inventors sued, alleging that Zimmer failed to use Commercially Reasonable Efforts.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the Inventors failed to state a claim. Many of Zimmer's 21 complained-of actions and inactions reflect how the Inventors hoped Zimmer would have marketed and sold the earnout products or what the Inventors would have done had they not put Zimmer in charge of sales. Others allege broken promises that Zimmer purportedly made before the signing of the agreement that are not actionable due to the agreement’s integration clause. View "Russell v. Zimmer, Inc." on Justia Law
Turner v. McDonald’s USA LLC
Until recently, under every McDonald’s franchise agreement, the franchise operator promised not to hire any person employed by a different franchise, or by McDonald’s itself, until six months after the last date that person had worked for McDonald’s or another franchise. A related clause barred one franchisee from soliciting another’s employee (anti-poach clauses). In a suit under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, the plaintiffs worked for McDonald’s franchises while these clauses were in force and were unable to take higher-paying offers at other franchises. They contend that the anti-poach clause violated the antitrust laws.The district court dismissed, rejecting plaintiffs’ “per se” theory, stating that the anti-poach clause is not a “naked” restraint on trade but is ancillary to each franchise agreement—and, as every new restaurant expands output, the restraint was justified. The court deemed the complaint deficient under the Rule of Reason because it does not allege that McDonald’s and its franchises collectively have power in the market for restaurant workers’ labor.The Seventh Circuit. The complaint alleges a horizontal restraint; market power is not essential to antitrust claims involving naked agreements among competitors. The court noted that there are many potentially complex questions, which cannot be answered by looking at the language of the complaint but require careful economic analysis. View "Turner v. McDonald's USA LLC" on Justia Law
Nulogy Corp. v. Menasha Packaging Co., LLC
Menasha licensed Nulogy’s software, Nulogy Solution. Years later, Deloitte reviewed Menasha’s systems in hopes of better integrating Nulogy Solution into Menasha’s other software. Deloitte and Menasha asked Nulogy to share proprietary information. Nulogy alleges that the two used this information to reverse engineer an alternative to Nulogy Solution. In 2020, Nulogy filed suit in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice, alleging breach of contract by Menasha and violations of trade secrets by Menasha and Deloitte. Deloitte objected to jurisdiction in Canada.Nulogy voluntarily dismissed its trade secret claims against both companies and refiled those claims in the Northern District of Illinois under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, 18 U.S.C. 1836(b). The breach of contract claims against Menasha remained pending in Canada. Menasha moved to dismiss the U.S. trade secrets litigation. Menasha’s contract with Nulogy contained a forum selection clause, identifying Ontario, Canada. Deloitte did not join that motion but filed its own motion to dismiss arguing failure to state a claim. The district court dismissed the claims against Menasha but reasoned that the forum non-conveniens doctrine required the dismissal of the entire complaint, including the claims against Deloitte.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Nulogy’s claims against Menasha but reversed the Deloitte dismissal. Deloitte has no contractual agreement with Nulogy identifying Canada as the proper forum and continues to insist that Canadian courts do not have jurisdiction. View "Nulogy Corp. v. Menasha Packaging Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Beach Forwarders, Inc. v. Service By Air, Inc.
Service hired Forwarders as its agent in 2010. The Agreement had a three-year term, a continuous one-year renewal option, and a mutual nonrenewal provision. A 2013 amendment stated that the Agreement would renew perpetually for consecutive one-year terms, unless Service, in its sole discretion, notifies Forwarders of its intention to terminate the Agreement 30 days before the annual expiration date. The amendment, however, left undisturbed the Agreement’s provision that Service shall not be deemed to be in default unless Forwarders has provided written notice of an alleged material breach and has given Service an opportunity to cure, after which Forwarders may terminate. “[T]ermination of this Agreement by [Forwarders] for any other reason shall be deemed a termination without cause.”Forwarders sought a declaratory judgment that the amended Agreement was terminable at will. Service conceded that the amended Agreement was of indefinite duration and that Illinois law presumes that such contracts are terminable at will but argued the presumption was rebutted because the Agreement provided that Forwarders could end the Agreement only if Service failed to timely cure a material breach after notification. The court granted judgment on the pleadings that the termination was lawful. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The amended Agreement lacks a clear statement that the contract can only be terminated based upon the occurrence of certain conditions or events. Service has not rebutted the Illinois law presumption that this contract of indefinite duration is terminable at will. View "Beach Forwarders, Inc. v. Service By Air, Inc." on Justia Law
Kass v. PayPal Inc.
PayPal users can transfer money to businesses and people; they can donate to charities through the Giving Fund, its 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Kass created a PayPal account and accepted PayPal’s 2004 User Agreement, including a non-mandatory arbitration clause and allowing PayPal to amend the Agreement at any time by posting the amended terms on its website. In 2012 PayPal amended the Agreement, adding a mandatory arbitration provision. Users could opt out until December 2012. In 2016, PayPal sent emails to Kass encouraging her to make year-end donations. Kass donated $3,250 to 13 charities through the Giving Fund website. Kass alleges she later learned that only three of those charities actually received her gifts; none knew that Kass had made the donations. Kass claims that, although Giving Fund created profile pages for these charities, it would transfer donated funds only to charities that created a PayPal “business” account; otherwise PayPal would “redistribute” the funds to similar charities.Kass and a charity to which she had donated filed a purported class action. The district court granted a motion to compel arbitration, then affirmed the arbitrator’s decision in favor of the defendants. The Seventh Circuit vacated. In concluding that Kass had consented to the amended Agreement, the district court erred by deciding a disputed issue of fact that must be decided by a trier of fact: whether Kass received notice of the amended Agreement and implicitly agreed to the new arbitration clause. View "Kass v. PayPal Inc." on Justia Law
Ambassador Animal Hospital, Ltd. v. Elanco Animal Health Inc.
Elanco Animal Health sent Ambassador Animal Hospital two unsolicited faxes inviting Ambassador’s veterinarians and its owner to RSVP for two free dinner programs: one titled “Canine and Feline Disease Prevention Hot Topics” and the other “Rethinking Management of Osteoarthritis.” The faxes indicated that both programs had been approved for continuing education credits and provided the names of the programs’ presenters. The corners of each invitation included the trademarked “Elanco” logo, and the bottom of each fax contained a notice encouraging recipients to consult their state or federal regulations or ethics laws about restrictions on accepting industry-provided educational and food items.Ambassador filed suit, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (TCPA), and arguing that the faxes were unsolicited advertisements because the free dinner programs were used to market or sell Elanco’s animal health goods and services. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The text of the TCPA creates an objective standard narrowly focused on the content of the faxed document. The faxes do not indicate—directly or indirectly—to a reasonable recipient that Elanco was promoting or selling some good, service, or property as required by the TCPA. The court rejected a “pretext” argument. View "Ambassador Animal Hospital, Ltd. v. Elanco Animal Health Inc." on Justia Law
Amory Investments LLC v. Utrecht-America Holdings, Inc.
Consolidated suits claimed that many firms in the broiler-chicken business formed a cartel. Third-party discovery in that ongoing suit turned up evidence that Rabobank, a lender to several broiler-chicken producers, urged at least two of them to cut production. Some plaintiffs added Rabobank as an additional defendant.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims. The Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, bans combinations and conspiracies in restraint of trade and does not reach unilateral action. Here, all the plaintiffs allege is that Rabobank tried to protect its interests through unilateral action. The complaint does not allege that Rabobank served as a conduit for the producers’ agreement, helped them coordinate their production and catch cheaters, or even knew that the producers were coordinating among themselves. A flurry of emails among managers and other employees at Rabobank observing that lower output and higher prices in the broiler-chicken market would improve the bank’s chance of collecting its loans and a pair of emails from the head of Rabobank’s poultry-lending section, to executives at two producers indicated nothing but unilateral action. The intra-Rabobank emails could not have promoted or facilitated cooperation among producers and the two messages only reminded the producers that as long as demand curves slope downward, lower output implies higher prices. Advice differs from agreement. View "Amory Investments LLC v. Utrecht-America Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Citizens Insurance Company of America v. Wynndalco Enterprises, LLC
After Wynndalco Enterprises, LLC was sued in two putative class actions for violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”), its business liability insurer, Citizens Insurance Company of America, filed an action seeking a declaration that it has no obligation under the terms of the insurance contract to indemnify Wynndalco for the BIPA violations or to supply Wynndalco with a defense. Citizens’ theory is that alleged violations of BIPA are expressly excluded from the policy coverage. Wynndalco counterclaimed, seeking a declaration to the contrary that Citizens is obligated to provide it with defense in both actions. The district court entered judgment on the pleadings for Wynndalco. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the narrowing construction that Citizens proposes to resolve that ambiguity is not supported by the language of the provision and does not resolve the ambiguity. Given what the district court described as the “intractable ambiguity” of the provision, the court held Citizens must defend Wynndalco in the two class actions. This duty extends to the common law claims asserted against Wynndalco in the other litigation, which, as Citizens itself argued, arise out of the same acts or omissions as the BIPA claim asserted in that suit. View "Citizens Insurance Company of America v. Wynndalco Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law
Michelle Calderon v. Carrington Mortgage Services, LLC
Plaintiff sued Carrington Mortgage Services on behalf of the United States for alleged violations of the False Claims Act. Calderon is a former employee of Carrington. She alleged that Carrington made false representations to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the course of certifying residential mortgage loans for insurance coverage from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Carrington moved for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiff did not meet her evidentiary burden on two elements of False Claims Act liability. The district court sided with Carrington on both elements and granted summary judgment, disposing of Plaintiff’s lawsuit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that Plaintiff does have sufficient proof of materiality. However, the court agreed that she has not met her burden of proof on the element of causation. The court explained that on the present record, it is not clear how a factfinder would even spot the alleged false statement in each loan file, let alone evaluate its seriousness and scope. And though Plaintiff asserted that the misrepresentations, in this case, are of the type identified in Spicer, the court did not see much in the record to support that point other than Plaintiff’s assertions. Without more evidence from which a jury could conclude that Carrington’s alleged misrepresentations in each loan caused the subsequent defaults, the nature of those misrepresentations is not enough to get past summary judgment. View "Michelle Calderon v. Carrington Mortgage Services, LLC" on Justia Law