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

Articles Posted in Business Law
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Arrive and Tech, compete to help customers coordinate shipments. Six employees at Arrive departed for Tech despite restrictive covenants. Arrive sued the six individuals and Tech for injunctive relief under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, 18 U.S.C. 1836(b)(3), claiming irreparable harm because the individuals had breached their restrictive covenants and misappropriated trade secrets.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction. Arrive has an adequate remedy at law for each of its claimed injuries, and faces no irreparable harm. Even if its argument were not forfeited, lost opportunities cannot support a showing of irreparable harm under these circumstances. The type of harm Arrive alleges would ultimately translate into lost profits, albeit indirectly, as in the end there is no economic value to opportunities that are not converted to sales. Given the balance of harms, the district court was within its discretion to deny injunctive relief. The court noted that the expiration of the time period of a former employee’s restrictive covenants does not render moot an employer’s request for an injunction to prevent the former employee from violating those restrictive covenants. A court could still grant Arrive effectual relief in the form of an injunction, even though certain individual defendants no longer work for Traffic Tech. View "DM Trans, LLC v. Scott" on Justia Law

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AFM ran 52 mattress stores in Indiana and Illinois. Motorists insured AFM with a policy covering loss of Business Income, Extra Expense, and loss due to actions of a Civil Authority. An exclusion applicable to all coverage stated: We will not pay for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any virus, bacterium or other microorganism that induces or is capable of inducing physical distress, illness or disease. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the governors of Illinois and Indiana ordered the closure of businesses. AFM was forced to cease business activities at all of its stores. AFM submitted a claim for coverage. Motorists denied it.AFM sought a declaratory judgment in Illinois state court. The judge dismissed the case with prejudice, based on the Virus Exclusion, rejecting a claim of “regulatory estoppel.” AFM claimed that Motorists misrepresented the Virus Exclusion to the Illinois Department of Insurance so that the regulators would approve it. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Illinois does not recognize regulatory estoppel. The Virus Exclusion unambiguously precludes “civil authority” coverage. View "AFM Mattress Company, LLC v. Motorists Commercial Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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CCC and Tractable use algorithms and data generated by repair centers to provide estimates of the cost to repair damaged vehicles. Tractable dispatched its employee to obtain a license for CCC’s software. Using a false name, the employee purported to represent “JA,” a small, independent appraiser. CCC issued a license. The contract forbids assignment of the license without consent and represents that JA is acting on its own behalf, not as an agent for any third party, and forbids disassembly of the software or its incorporation into any other product. Tractable disassembled the software and incorporated some features into its own product. In CCC’s subsequent suit, Tractable moved for arbitration under the agreement between CCC and JA., arguing that “JA” is a name that Tractable uses for itself. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Tractable is not a party to the agreement. CCC could not have discovered that Tractable uses the name “JA.” Contractual meaning reflects words and signs exchanged between the negotiators, not unilateral, confidential beliefs. If a misrepresentation as to the character or essential terms of a proposed contract induces conduct that appears to be a manifestation of assent by one who neither knows nor has reasonable opportunity to know of the character or essential terms of the proposed contract, his conduct is not effective as a manifestation of assent.. The identity of CCC’s trading partner was a vital element of the deal. View "CCC Intelligent Solutions Inc. v. Tractable Inc." on Justia Law

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In March 2020, to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Illinois Governor Pritzker ordered all persons living in the state to stay at home except to perform specified “essential activities” and ordered “non-essential” businesses to cease all but minimum basic operations. Childcare providers were permitted to continue operating only with an emergency license to care for the children of essential workers. Michigan’s Governor Whitmer issued a similar order. Both states lifted those restrictions by June 2020. West Bend denied claims by childcare centers under their all-risk commercial property insurance policies.The policies cover the actual loss of income and expense due to the suspension of an insured’s operations “caused by direct physical loss of or damage to property”. The loss or damage must be caused by “[d]irect physical loss.” Lost income and extra expenses are covered when a civil authority prohibits access to insured premises because of damage at nearby property. The policies cover income lost and expenses incurred when an insured’s operations are temporarily suspended by government order "due to an outbreak of a ‘communicable disease’ … at the insured premises.”The district court concluded that the Centers had not plausibly alleged that COVID-19 caused physical loss of or damage to their property—or to nearby property— or that government shutdown orders were due to an outbreak at their premises. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that other circuits have reached the same conclusion. View "Paradigm Care & Enrichment Center, L.L.C. v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Qin (from China) is among 165 foreign limited partners who collectively invested $82.5 million into the Colorado Regional Center Project Solaris LLLP (CRCPS), whose general partner is CRC-I (an LLC). The parent company of CRC-I is Waveland, which has a member (Deslongchamps) and a Milwaukee office. CRCPS was part of an approved U.S. EB-5 immigrant visa program through which Qin and others obtained permanent-resident visas as a result of their investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States. CRC-I invested CRCPS’s funds in a condominium project. The investment was a failure, allegedly due to CRC-I’s malfeasance. Qin, on behalf of a class of investors, wants to sue CRC-I in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. He filed a petition under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 27, seeking leave to depose Deslongchamps, in order to identify CRC-1’s members.The district court denied the petition, reasoning that Qin’s request is not one to perpetuate testimony that is at risk of being lost. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While Qin faces an obstacle to pursuing federal court relief, and the dilemma posed by the non-corporate association whose members (and their citizenship) the plaintiff cannot ascertain despite reasonable investigatory efforts has been noted and discussed elsewhere, the court concluded that addressing that issue would require an advisory opinion. View "Qin v. Deslongchamps" on Justia Law

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In 2006 Pierre opened a credit card account. She accumulated consumer debt and defaulted. Midland Funding bought the debt and sued Pierre in Illinois state court in 2010 but voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit. In 2015. Midland Credit sent Pierre a letter seeking payment, listing multiple payment plans, stating that the offer would expire in 30 days. The letter stated that because of the age of the debt, Midland would neither sue nor report to a credit agency and that her credit score would be unaffected by either payment or nonpayment. The statute of limitations had run. Pierre sued Midland under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2). Asking for payment of a time-barred debt is not unlawful, but Pierre contended that the letter was a deceptive, unfair, and unconscionable method of debt collection. She sought to represent a class of Illinois residents who had received similar letters from Midland.The district court certified the class and granted it summary judgment on the merits. A jury awarded statutory damages totaling $350,000. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the suit. The letter might have created a risk that Pierre would suffer harm, such as paying the time-barred debt; that risk alone is not enough to establish an Article III injury in a suit for money damages, as the Supreme Court held in “TransUnion" (2021). View "Pierre v. Midland Credit Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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As part of an asset-purchase agreement, ISI promised to pay Indigo $2 million with interest on a defined schedule. Guido guaranteed the debt. Under a subordination agreement signed by the parties, a bank is entitled to be paid ahead of Indigo unless ISI meets certain financial conditions designed for the bank’s security.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Indigo’s suit to collect on the guaranty. Indigo is entitled to enforce Guido’s obligation without first trying to collect from ISI but must show that ISI has failed to keep its promise to pay. Indigo’s complaint did not allege that ISI has retired the bank’s loan or met the financial conditions. ISI is, therefore, forbidden to pay Indigo, and is not in default under the note. The guaranty kicks in on ISI’s failure “to timely make payment as required under the Note” and, under Illinois law, “instruments executed at the same time, by the same parties, for the same purpose, and in the course of the same transaction are regarded as one contract and will be construed together.” View "Indigo Old Corp., Inc. v. Guido" on Justia Law

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ATC purchased a commercial general liability insurance policy from Westchester, which provided coverage against liability incurred because of “advertising,” a defined term that included trade dress infringement. BizBox sued ATC for breach of contract and interference with its business expectancies, alleging that ATC manufactured and sold a knock-off trailer using BizBox’s design. ATC sought a declaratory judgment that Westchester owed it a duty to defend and a duty to indemnify. Westchester argued that BizBox’s underlying suit was not covered under the insurance policy because BizBox did not allege, in that litigation, an infringement of its trade dress in ATC’s advertising.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. BizBox’s complaint never alleged a trade dress infringement claim against ATC nor an advertising injury and could not be construed to plausibly allege a trade dress infringement claim against ATC. BizBox alleged no facts that can plausibly be construed to show that it asserted that an advertising injury occurred. Westchester, therefore, has no duty to defend or indemnify ATC under the “personal and advertising injury” provision of the Policy. View "Aluminum Trailer Co. v. Westchester Fire Insurance Co" on Justia Law

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In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX airliner crashed in the sea near Indonesia, killing everyone on board. In March 2019, a second 737 MAX crashed in Ethiopia, again killing everyone on board. Within days of the second crash, all 737 MAX airliners around the world were grounded. The FAA kept the planes grounded until November 2020, when it was satisfied that serious problems with the planes’ flight control systems had been corrected. The Pension Plan, a shareholder of the Boeing Company, filed a derivative suit on behalf of Boeing under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78n(a)(1), alleging that Boeing officers and board members made materially false and misleading public statements about the development and operation of the 737 MAX in Boeing’s 2017, 2018, and 2019 proxy materials.The district court dismissed the suit without addressing the merits, applying a Boeing bylaw that gives the company the right to insist that any derivative actions be filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Because the federal Exchange Act gives federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over actions under it, applying the bylaw to this case would mean that the derivative action could not be heard in any forum. That result would be contrary to Delaware corporation law, which respects the non-waiver provision in Section 29(a) of the federal Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78cc(a). View "Seafarers Pension Plan v. Bradway" on Justia Law

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Mashallah sells handcrafted jewelry at its Chicago store. Ranalli’s operates a bar and restaurant. Both purchased West Bend all-risk commercial property insurance policies. In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois Governor Pritzker ordered all individuals to stay at home except to perform specified “essential activities” and ordered “non-essential” businesses to cease all but minimum operations. Restaurants were considered essential businesses and permitted to sell food solely for off-premises consumption. Ranalli’s was restricted to filling takeout and delivery orders. Mashallah was not classified as an essential business and had to cease its retail activities. Both businesses sustained heavy financial losses. Their West Bend policies are materially identical. West Bend agreed to pay for actual business income lost and necessary extra expenses incurred if they were caused by “direct physical loss of or damage to” the businesses’ properties. Both policies contain virus exclusions. West Bend denied their claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of contract and bad faith claims and a claim that West Bend’s retention of full premiums—despite decreased risks occasioned by the reduction in insureds’ business operations—constituted unjust enrichment, requiring rebates. The virus exclusions barred coverage for the purported losses and expenses and the businesses failed to allege viable legal bases for rebate of premiums. View "Mashallah, Inc v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law