Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Sterling National Bank v. Block
Sterling Bank purchased Damian Services. The stock purchase agreement set up a two-million-dollar escrow to resolve disputes arising after the purchase and established comprehensive rights, obligations, remedies, and procedures for resolving disputes. After the purchase, a former Damian employee called some of Damian’s clients to tell them of a billing practice that the sellers had instituted years earlier. When Sterling learned of the situation, it investigated with the help of a forensic accountant. Sterling concluded that under the sellers’ management, Damian had overcharged its clients by over one million dollars. Sterling refunded the overpayments to its current clients, then unsuccessfully demanded indemnification from the escrow, claiming that the sellers had misrepresented Damian’s liabilities and vulnerability to litigation.The district court granted the sellers summary judgment, reasoning that Sterling missed the deadline for claiming indemnification under the stock purchase agreement. The court denied the sellers’ request for statutory interest on the escrow money.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Whether Sterling’s demand for indemnification was late depends on disputed facts. Even if the demand was late, however, the agreement’s elaborate terms provide that any delay could be held against Sterling only “to the extent that [sellers] irrevocably forfeit rights or defenses by reason of such failure.” Undisputed facts show that the sellers have not irrevocably forfeited any claims or defenses. View "Sterling National Bank v. Block" on Justia Law
Bell v. Albertson Companies, Inc.
The defendants sell shaker tubes in grocery stores across the country, with labels advertising “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese.” The products are not 100 percent cheese but contain four to nine percent added cellulose powder and potassium sorbate, as indicated on the ingredient list on the back of the package. Plaintiffs claim that these ingredient lists show that the prominent “100%” labeling is deceptive under state consumer-protection laws. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred numerous similar actions to the Northern District of Illinois for consolidated pretrial proceedings. That court ultimately dismissed the plaintiffs’ deceptive labeling claims (100% claims) with prejudice.The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the prominent “100%” labeling deceives a substantial portion of reasonable consumers, and their claims are not preempted by federal law. An accurate fine-print list of ingredients does not foreclose as a matter of law a claim that an ambiguous front label deceives reasonable consumers. Many reasonable consumers do not instinctively parse every front label or read every back label before purchasing groceries. For reasons specific to multidistrict litigation, the court concluded that it lacked appellate jurisdiction to review the dismissal of the 100% claims in two complaints because the appeals were filed too late. View "Bell v. Albertson Companies, Inc." on Justia Law
Troyer v. National Futures Association
Between 1983-2015, Heneghan was an associated person (AP) of 14 different National Futures Association (NFA)-member firms. Troyer invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial derivatives through NFA Members. The first interaction between Troyer and Heneghan was in 2008. After receiving an unsolicited phone call from Heneghan, Troyer invested more than $160,000. Despite changes in Heneghan’s entity affiliation, his working relationship with Troyer remained constant. At one point, Heneghan’s then-firm, Statewide, withdrew from the NFA following an investigation. Heneghan was the subject of a four-month NFA approval-hold in 2012. Troyer began sending money to Heneghan personally in 2013, allegedly to obtain trading firm employee discounts; these investments totaled $82,000. Troyer neither received nor asked for any investment documentation for this investment. In 2016-2015, NFA investigated Heneghan’s then-firm, PMI, Despite Troyer’s alleged substantial investment, no PMI accounts were listed for either Troyer or Heneghan. In 2015, Troyer directed Heneghan to cash out the fund; “all hell broke loose.” In 2016, the NFA permanently barred Heneghan from NFA membership. Troyer filed suit under the Commodities Exchange Act. 7 U.S.C. 25(b).The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of Troyer’s claim. NFA Bylaw 301(a)(ii)(D), which bars persons from becoming or remaining NFA Members if their conduct was the cause of NFA expulsion, is inapplicable. Statewide’s agreement not to reapply represented a distinct sanction from expulsion and did not trigger Bylaw 301(a)(ii)(D). View "Troyer v. National Futures Association" on Justia Law
BRC Rubber & Plastics, Inc. v. Continental Carbon Co.
BRC and Continental signed a five-year contract. Continental agreed to supply BRC with “approximately 1.8 million pounds of prime furnace black annually” taken in “approximately equal monthly quantities.” The price of carbon black consists of a baseline price and “feedstock” adjustments. The contract listed baseline prices with instructions for calculating feedstock adjustments. In 2010, BRC bought 2.6 million pounds of carbon black. In early 2011, BRC bought about 1.3 million pounds. In April 2011, supplies were tight. Continental tried to increase baseline prices. BRC replied that the price increase would violate the contract. BRC placed new orders relying on the contract’s prices. Continental did not respond to BRC's protests. On May 11, Continental missed a shipment to BRC. Continental would not confirm future shipment dates or tell BRC when to expect a response. On May 16, BRC formally invoked U.C.C. 2-609, asking for adequate assurance that Continental would continue to supply carbon black under the existing contract, requesting a response by May 18. Continental gave contradictory responses and continued to demand that BRC accept the price increase. On June 2, BRC notified Continental that it was terminating the contract and had filed suit. BRC proceeded to “cover” by buying from another supplier at higher prices.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order that Continental pay damages. The district court properly applied U.C.C. 2-609 to find that Continental gave BRC reasonable grounds for doubting that it would perform and that Continental repudiated by failing to provide adequate assurance that it would continue to perform. The court properly applied U.C.C. 2-712 to find that cover was commercially reasonable and awarded prejudgment interest. View "BRC Rubber & Plastics, Inc. v. Continental Carbon Co." on Justia 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