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

Articles Posted in Business Law
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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DISH sold its satellite TV service through its own staff plus third parties: “telemarketing vendors”; “full-service retailers” that sold, installed, and serviced satellite gear; and “order-entry retailers” that used phones to sell nationwide. The United States and four states sued DISH and four order-entry retailers. The district court found that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, 16 C.F.R. 310, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, and related state laws. A $280 million penalty was imposed. DISH appealed concerning the extent to which DISH had to coordinate do-not-call lists with and among these retailers or was otherwise responsible for their acts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, except for a holding that DISH is liable for “substantially assisting” Star Satellite and its measure of damages; those violations were essentially counted twice. Regardless of the definition of “cause” under the rule, which makes it unlawful for a seller to “cause a telemarketer to engage in” violations, the retailers were DISH's agents, regardless of any contractual disclaimer. They acted directly for DISH, entering orders into DISH’s system; they did not have their own inventory and were not resellers of any kind. The retailers were authorized to sell DISH’s service by phone nationwide; the district court found that DISH knew about these retailers’ wrongful acts, so DISH is liable as the principal. View "United States v. DISH Network L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Rembrandt contracted to supply Rexing with 3,240,000 cage-free eggs every week for a year. Eight months later, Rexing claimed that Rembrandt failed to provide eggs that met the specified quality standards. Rexing sought a declaration that it was excused from accepting any more eggs, and incidental and consequential damages. Rembrandt counterclaimed, seeking damages. The trial court determined that Rexing had unilaterally terminated the contract and that the breach was not excused. Rembrandt was awarded $1,522,302.61 in damages. Rexing voluntarily dismissed its subsequent appeal and filed suit in state court, alleging conversion and deception. Rexing claimed that Rembrandt had refused to return reusable shipping materials, the “EggsCargoSystem,” Rexing had provided. In the first suit, Rexing had sought the value of the EggsCargoSystem as part of the start-up costs that it allegedly incurred in reliance on the agreement. Rembrandt removed the second suit to federal court and argued that the claims were barred by claim-preclusion in light of the district court’s grant of summary judgment in the first suit and that Rexing had improperly split its claims between the two cases. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the second suit. Rexing impermissibly split its claims. Both suits centered around the same controversy. Under Indiana’s doctrine prohibiting claim splitting, a plaintiff cannot bring a new lawsuit based upon the same transaction or occurrence that underlies claims brought in another lawsuit. View "Rexing Quality Eggs v. Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant manufactures aloe vera gel, sold under its own brand and as private‐label versions. Suppliers harvest, fillet, and de-pulp aloe vera leaves. The resulting aloe is pasteurized, filtered, treated with preservatives, and dehydrated for shipping. Defendant reconstitutes the dehydrated aloe and adds stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives to make the product shelf‐stable. The products are 98% aloe gel and 2% other ingredients. Labels describe the product as aloe vera gel that can be used to treat dry, irritated, or sunburned skin. One label calls the product “100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel.” An asterisk leads to information on the back of the label: “Plus stabilizers and preservatives to insure [sic] potency and efficacy.” Each label contains an ingredient list showing aloe juice and other substances. Plaintiffs brought consumer deception claims, alleging that the products did not contain any aloe vera and lacked acemannan, a compound purportedly responsible for the plant’s therapeutic qualities. Discovery showed those allegations to be false. Plaintiffs changed their theory, claiming that the products were degraded and did not contain enough acemannan so that it was misleading to represent them as “100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel,” and to market the therapeutic effects associated with aloe vera. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. There was no evidence that some concentration of acemannan is necessary to call a product aloe or to produce a therapeutic effect, nor evidence that consumers care about acemannan concentration. View "Beardsall v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Healthcare providers often do not purchase medical devices directly from the manufacturer; they join group purchasing organizations (GPOs), which negotiate prices with manufacturers. The provider chooses a distributor to deliver the product. The distributor enters into contracts with the provider and the manufacturer, incorporating the price and other terms that the GPO negotiated, plus a markup for the distributor. A GPO negotiated with Becton (a manufacturer) on the plaintiff-providers’ behalf; a distributor delivered the devices. Had Becton acted alone, selling its products to an independent distributor, which then sold them to a provider, the Supreme Court’s 1977 “Illinois Brick” rule would bar the provider from suing Becton for any alleged monopoly overcharges. Only buyers who purchased products directly from the antitrust violator have a claim for treble damages. The plaintiffs alleged that Becton, the GPOs, and the distributors were in a conspiracy and engaged in various anti-competitive measures, including exclusive-dealing and penalty provisions. Under Brick's conspiracy exception, when a monopolist enters into a conspiracy with its distributors “the first buyer from a conspirator is the right party to sue.” The district court found the conspiracy rule inapplicable because this case did not involve vertical price-fixing. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The relationship between the buyer and the seller, not the nature of the alleged anticompetitive conduct, governs whether the buyer may sue under the antitrust laws. Remand was required because the Providers have failed adequately to allege the necessary conspiracy. View "Marion HealthCare, LLC. v. Becton Dickinson & Co." on Justia Law