Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Commercial Law
Venequip, S.A. v. Caterpillar Inc.
Venequip, a Venezuelan heavy-equipment supplier, sold and serviced products made by Illinois-based Caterpillar. Venequip’s dealership was governed by sales and service agreements with CAT Sàrl, Caterpillar’s Swiss subsidiary. In 2019 CAT Sàrl terminated the dealership. The contracts contain clauses that direct all disputes to Swiss courts for resolution under Swiss law. In 2021 Venequip brought contract claims against CAT Sàrl in Geneva, Switzerland. Venequip filed applications across the United States seeking discovery from Caterpillar and its employees, dealers, and customers under 28 U.S.C. 1782(a), which authorizes (but does not require) district courts to order any person who resides or is found in the district to give testimony or produce documents “for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” Venequip’s Northern District of Illinois application sought wide-ranging discovery from Caterpillar.Ruling on Venequip’s application, the district judge addressed four factors identified by the Supreme Court (Intel) that generally concern the applicant’s need for discovery, the intrusiveness of the request, and comity considerations, and added the parties’ contractual choice of forum and law and Caterpillar’s agreement to provide discovery in the Swiss court, then denied the application. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The appeal was not mooted by intervening developments in the Swiss court. The judge appropriately weighed the Intel factors and other permissible considerations. View "Venequip, S.A. v. Caterpillar Inc." 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
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
Sunny Handicraft (H.K.) Ltd. v. Envision This!, LLC
Sunny sold seasonal merchandise to Walgreens, with Envision as an intermediary. From 2007-2012 Sunny shipped goods directly to Walgreens but routed documents through Envision. Every year Sunny sent documents calling for it to be named the beneficiary of letters of credit to cover the price. Envision passed these to Walgreens, which arranged for the letters of credit. In 2013 Sunny sent the usual documents but Envision substituted its own name for Sunny’s as the beneficiary of the letters of credit. Walgreens sent the letters of credit to Envision, which drew more than $3 million.A jury found that Envision breached its contract with Sunny by not paying it the money drawn on the letters of credit and that Envision had committed fraud. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Envision’s argument that it cannot be liable for fraud because it was not Sunny’s agent or fiduciary and therefore did not have any duty to alert Sunny that it had changed the instructions about who would control the letters of credit. The cooperative business relations between Sunny and Envision from 2007-2012 created a “special relationship” that required Envision to notify Sunny about any deviation in their dealings. View "Sunny Handicraft (H.K.) Ltd. v. Envision This!, LLC" on Justia Law
KAP Holdings, LLC v. Mar-Cone Appliance Parts Co.
In 2006, Price approached Marcone about using e-commerce in the appliance parts industry. Price and Marcone entered into a non-disclosure agreement while evaluating the concept, but no partnership resulted. Price then created PartScription. Both companies sell appliance replacement parts online. In 2017, Price restarted talks with Marcone. In 2018, Marcone’s CEO proposed that PartScription and Marcone form a “50-50” partnership. Price accepted, and they shook hands on the idea. Price drafted a term sheet for the contemplated partnership. The first line sheet states “PartScription and Marcone (PSM) have agreed to form a partnership/joint venture to serve the independent hardware industry.” Negotiations continued. During a conference call, Marcone representatives purportedly “stated that they approved of the terms,” and offered one change regarding a joint bank account. Days later Price sent a follow-up email saying that his notes indicated “Marcone ha[d] approved the terms outlined in the draft PSM term sheet” and asking whether they needed to memorialize the agreement. No further memorialization took place. Marcone's representatives became unresponsive.In 2021, PartScription filed suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. PartScription’s complaint fails to plausibly allege a valid contract; any amendment would be futile. The only documentation speaks of general goals— not obligations—and fails to identify definite and certain binding terms. View "KAP Holdings, LLC v. Mar-Cone Appliance Parts Co." on Justia Law
Taizhou Yuanda Investment Group Co., Ltd. v. Z Outdoor Living, LLC
Taizhou, a Chinese manufacturer, entered into a Cooperation Agreement with Z Outdoor, a Wisconsin company owned by Casual Products: Taizhou would manufacture outdoor furniture and other related items for Z Outdoor to sell to customers. Z Outdoor eventually stopped paying Taizhou. The Cornings, on behalf of Z Outdoor, made false statements about future business, forthcoming payments, and causes for the delays. Taizhou continued to fill customer orders without receiving compensation. In 2018, AFG (a Wisconsin LLC also owned by Casual) started submitting purchase orders to Taizhou. AFG never signed the Cooperation Agreement. Taizhou filled the orders and sent AFG invoices. AFG eventually stopped paying Taizhou and made false statements regarding payment delays. The total due from Z Outdoor and AFG accrued to $14 million for purchase orders sent, 2017-2019.The district court entered a default judgment against the corporate defendants on Taizhou's contract claims but ruled against Taizhou on unjust enrichment, fraud, and conversion claims, finding the fraud and conversion claims barred by Wisconsin’s economic loss doctrine and q “mere repackaging of Taizhou’s ‘straightforward breach of contract claim.’” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Any fraud was interwoven with the Cooperation Agreement, so the economic loss doctrine applies. To the extent the damages amounted to lost profits or lost business, those are also economic losses under Wisconsin law. View "Taizhou Yuanda Investment Group Co., Ltd. v. Z Outdoor Living, LLC" on Justia Law
KR Enterprises, Inc. v. Zerteck Inc
Evergreen manufactured RVs and sold 21 RVs to several affiliated Boat-N-RV dealers. After delivering those RVs, Evergreen went out of business. The invoices for the 21 RVs totaled $808,663. The dealers resold at least 20 of them to retail customers but did not pay Evergreen or its secured creditor. Evergreen’s lender, with a first-priority blanket security interest in all Evergreen assets, including accounts receivable, filed suit. The lender assigned its rights to Evergreen’s owner.The district court found that the lender’s successor had standing as a secured party and had proven that the dealers had breached the contracts. The court granted the dealers certain setoffs for warranty and rebate claims, and denied prejudgment interest on the net amounts the dealers owed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The parties did not intend to erase the security interest at the heart of the transaction and the assignment transferred a priority security interest in the RVs, making the successor the proper plaintiff. Holding the dealers liable for the purchase prices of the RVs but to allowing them setoffs for the rebates and warranty payments that Evergreen ow was the right solution for Evergreen’s failures to pay rebates and warranty obligations; the dealers were not entitled to setoffs for diminished value. View "KR Enterprises, Inc. v. Zerteck Inc" on Justia Law
Rexing Quality Eggs v. Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc.
Rexing sought a ruling that Rexing was excused from its obligations to purchase eggs under its contract with Rembrandt. Rembrandt filed a counterclaim seeking damages for Rexing’s repudiation of the contract, attorneys’ fees, and interest. Following discovery, the district court granted Rembrandt summary judgment on liability but concluded that there were genuine issues of triable fact as to damages. A jury awarded Rembrandt $1,268,481 for losses on eggs it had resold and another $193,752 for losses on eggs that it was not able to resell. The court determined that the interest term in the parties’ agreement was usurious, so that Rembrandt was not entitled to contractual interest or attorneys’ fees.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the damages award. The district court properly concluded that the resale remedy under Iowa’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code, Iowa Code 554.2706, was the appropriate mechanism for calculating Rembrandt’s damages and Rexing waived its arguments challenging the award by not presenting them to the district court in a post-verdict motion. Reversing in part, the court held that the parties’ agreement fell within the “Business Credit Exception” to Iowa’s usury statute, Iowa Code 535.5(2)(a)(5), and remanded the denial of Rembrandt’s request for interest and fees. View "Rexing Quality Eggs v. Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC
Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’” View "Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC" 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