Articles Posted in Commercial Law

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Dana had a dealer agreement in Texas with AISCO. Unbeknownst to Dana, AISCO sold off most of its assets to newly-formed DanMar, which transferred the assets to UJoints. The name “UJoints” had been a trade name used by AISCO. Under Texas Business and Commerce Coe 57.154(a)(4), “a supplier may not terminate a dealer agreement without good cause.” Good cause exists “if there has been a sale or other closeout of a substantial part of the dealer’s assets related to the business.” Dana terminated the agreement, preventing UJoints from claiming to have been authorized to step into AISCO’s shoes and become a Dana dealer in Texas. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Dana, finding that the transfers gave Dana good cause to terminate its dealer agreement with AISCO. The court rejected an argument that Dana entered into a “dealer agreement,” with the “new, unknown entity the identity of which the owners had concealed from Dana for a significant time.” It was natural for Dana to continue selling, for a time, to its dealer’s, AISCO’s, successor—UJoints. Those sales did not make UJoints a party to a dealer agreement. View "Texas Ujoints LLC v. Dana Holding Corp." on Justia Law

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Clorox decided to sell the largest-sized containers of its products only to discount warehouses such as Costco and Sam’s Club. Ordinary grocery stores, including Woodman’s, could only obtain smaller packages. Arguing that package size is a promotional service, Woodman’s sued Clorox for unlawful price discrimination under the Robinson-Patman Act, 15 U.S.C. 13(e). The district court denied Clorox’s motion to dismiss. On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed. Only promotional “services or facilities” fall within subsection 13(e). Size alone is not enough to constitute a promotional service or facility for purposes of subsection 13(e); any discount that goes along with size must be analyzed under subsection 13(a). The convenience of the larger size is not a promotional service or facility. View "Woodman's Food Mkt, Inc. v. Clorox Co." on Justia Law

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Hyson USA and Hyson 2U are food distributors. Hyson USA is wholly owned by its president, Tansky, and has operated since 2006. Kaminskas was one of its managers. In 2012, Hyson USA encountered serious financial difficulty, culminating in the loss of its liability insurance, forcing the company to suspend operations. Months later, Kaminskas established Hyson 2U. Hyson USA transferred its branded inventory and equipment to the new company. Hyson 2U leased the warehouse from which Hyson USA had operated. Tansky then switched roles with Kaminskas and went to work at the new company. Hyson 2U operated in the same manner and in the same markets as Hyson USA. In 2014, Tansky was fired. He and Hyson USA, again operational, sued Hyson 2U and Kaminskas alleging trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. The judge dismissed the trademark claims, citing acquiescence, and relinquished supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that acquiescence is a fact-intensive equitable defense that is rarely capable of resolution on a motion to dismiss. View "Hyson USA Inc. v. Hyson 2U, Ltd." on Justia Law

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ACL manufactures and operates tow boats and barges that operate in U.S. inland waterways. Lubrizol manufactures industrial lubricants and additives, including a diesel‐fuel additive, LZ8411A. VCS distributed the additive. Lubrizol and VCS jointly persuaded ACL to buy it from VCS. Before delivery began, Lubrizol terminated VCS as a distributor because of suspicion that it was engaging in unethical conduct: a Lubrizol’s employee had failed to disclose to his employer that he was also a principal of VCS. Lubrizol did not inform ACL that VCS was no longer its distributor. No longer able to supply ACL with LZ8411A, VCS substituted an additive that ACL contends is inferior to LZ8411A. VCS didn’t inform ACL of the substitution. According to ACL, Lubrizol learned of the substitution, but did not inform ACL. When ACL discovered the substitution, it sued both companies. ACL settled with VCS. The district judge dismissed Lubrizol. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that Lubrizol had a “special relationship” that required it to disclose ACL’s conduct, that VCS was Lubrizol’s apparent agent, and of “quasi contract” between ACL and Lubrizol. View "Am. Commercial Lines, LLC v. Lubrizol Corp." on Justia Law

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In 1998 IGF bought Continental’s crop-insurance business at a price to be determined at either side’s option by the exercise of a put or call. In 2001 Continental exercised its put option; under the contractual formula, IGF owed Continental $25.4 million. Around that same time, IGF sold its business to Acceptance for $40 million. The Symons, who controlled IGF, structured the purchase price: $16.5 million to IGF; $9 million to IGF's parent companies Symons International and Goran in exchange for noncompetition agreements; and $15 million to Granite, an affiliated Symons-controlled company, for a reinsurance treaty. Continental, still unpaid, sued for breach of contract and fraudulent transfer. The court found for Continental and pierced the corporate veil to impose liability on the controlling companies and individuals. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding Symons International liable for breach of the 1998 sale agreement; Symons International, Goran, Granite, and the Symons liable as transferees under the Indiana Uniform False Transfer Act; and the Symons liable under an alter-ego theory. The Symons businesses observed corporate formalities only in their most basic sense. The noncompetes only made sense as a fraudulent diversion of the purchase money, not as legitimate protection from competition. The reinsurance treaty. which was suggested bySymons and outside industry norms, was unjustified and overpriced. View "Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Symons" on Justia Law

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Continental sells carbon black, a material used in rubber products. BRC makes rubber products for the automotive industry. The companies entered into a contract that stated: It is the intent of this agreement that Continental agrees to sell to BRC approximately 1.8 million pounds of carbon black annually. In 2010, Continental shipped 2.6 million pounds to BRC. In 2011, for various reasons, Continental was struggling to keep up with the total demand from all its customers. When Continental refused to confirm or ship some of BRC’s orders, BRC sued, alleging that Continental had breached and repudiated the contract. The district court entered judgment for BRC, finding that as a matter of law that the agreement was a “requirements contract,” meaning it obligated Continental to sell as much carbon black as BRC needed, and obligated BRC to buy all its carbon black exclusively from Continental. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded, finding that the agreement did not obligate BRC to buy any—much less all— of its carbon black from Continental. View "BRC Rubber & Plastics, Inc. v. Cont'l Carbon Co." on Justia Law

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Sorensen is the CEO of Inhibitor Technology, which produces rust-inhibiting products containing volatile corrosion inhibitor (VCI), branded with the federally registered trademark THE INHIBITOR. That word mark is owned by Sorensen; he also claims common law trademark rights in a design mark associated with his products, an orange-and-black crosshair. The WD-40 Company, maker of the spray lubricant, introduced the new WD-40 Specialist product line. Sorensen claimed that the branding for those products infringed upon his marks. WD-40 Specialist Long-Term Corrosion Inhibitor, which contains VCI and has a purpose similar to that of Sorensen’s products, contains on its packaging both the word “inhibitor” and an orange crosshair. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that WD-40’s use of the word “inhibitor” was a non-trademark descriptive fair use of the word. As to the crosshair mark, the court found that Sorensen had not presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to a likelihood of confusion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The most important factors: similarity of the marks, bad faith intent, and evidence of actual confusion, weigh in favor of WD-40. No consumer would think that the marks are similar. The court noted the” clear weakness of Sorensen’s marks,” which appear inconsistently on his products. View "Sorensen v. WD-40 Co." on Justia Law

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Carhart and Halaska own CHI. CHI terminated its sales agent, MRO, which filed a federal suit for breach of contract. Carhart bought MRO’s claim for $150,000 and became the plaintiff in a suit against a company of which he was a half owner. Halaska then sued Carhart in Wisconsin state court for breach of fiduciary duties to CHI and Halaska by becoming the plaintiff and by writing checks on CHI bank accounts without approval, depositing payments owed CHI into Carhart’s own account, and withholding accounting and other financial information from Halaska. A receiver was appointed, informed the federal court that CHI had no assets out of which to pay a lawyer, and consented to entry of a $242,000 default judgment (the amount sought by Carhart), giving Carhart a potential profit of $92,000 on his purchase of MRO’s claim. In Carhart’s suit to execute that judgment, CHI’s only asset was its Wisconsin suit against Carhart. The court ordered the sale of CHI’s lawsuit at public auction; Carhart, the only bidder, bought it for $10,000, ending all possibility that CHI could proceed against him for his alleged plundering of the company. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Auctioning off the lawsuit placed Carhart ahead of CHI’s other creditors. Carhart was not a purchaser in good faith. No valid interest is impaired by rescinding the sale, enabling CHI to prosecute its suit against Carhart. View "Carhart v. Carhart-Halaska Int'l, LLC" on Justia Law

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Iqbal bought a gasoline service station and contracted with S-Mart Petroleum for gasoline. Iqbal then hired Patel to conduct the business, ceding operational control to him. He chose Patel on the recommendation of Johnson, S-Mart’s president. Patel ran the business but did not pay for the gasoline, leading S-Mart to sue. The Indiana state court entered a judgment of more than $65,000 against Iqbal as guarantor. Under a settlement, Iqbal gave S-Mart a note, secured by a mortgage on the business premises. When he still did not pay, a state court entered a second judgment against him, and the property was sold in a foreclosure auction. Iqbal filed a federal suit, alleging that Patel and Johnson acted in cahoots to defraud him out of his business and seeking treble damages under 18 U.S.C. 1964, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The district court dismissed the complaint as barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because it challenged the state court’s judgments. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that Iqbal seeks damages for activity that (he alleges) predated the state litigation and caused injury independently of it. View "Iqbal v. Patel" on Justia Law

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In 2008 Motorola agreed to make a good-faith effort to purchase two percent of its cell-phone user-manual needs from Druckzentrum, a printer based in Germany. After a year, Motorola’s sales contracted sharply. Motorola consolidated its cell-phone manufacturing and distribution operations in China, buying all related print products there. Motorola notified Druckzentrum. The companies continued to do business for a few months. After losing Motorola’s business Druckzentrum entered bankruptcy and sued Motorola, alleging breach of contract and fraud in the inducement. Druckzentrum claimed that the contract gave it an exclusive right to all of Motorola’s user-manual printing business for cell phones sold in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia during the contract period. The district judge entered summary judgment for Motorola. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The written contract contained no promise of an exclusive right and was fully integrated, so Druckzentrum cannot use parol evidence of prior understandings. Although Motorola promised to make a good-faith effort, the contract listed reasons Motorola might justifiably miss the target, including business downturns. There was no evidence of bad faith. The evidence was insufficient to create a jury issue on the claim that Motorola fraudulently induced Druckzentrum to enter into or continue the contract. View "Druckzentrum Harry Jung GmbH v. Motorola Mobility LLC" on Justia Law