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

Articles Posted in Contracts
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The Dais obtained a loan from Apex secured by a mortgage on their laundromat. The laundromat ceased operations; the Dais defaulted. Apex agreed to accept a deed in lieu of foreclosure if the property was marketable. A December 2008 inspection revealed that it was in disrepair, exposed to the elements, and open to vagrants. Apex took measures to preserve the property and returned the deed to the Dais in April 2009. In December 2010, two Chicago firefighters lost their lives battling a blaze at the abandoned laundromat. Their estates sued Apex. Apex and the estates settled. Apex's insurer, Federal, denied coverage, citing a policy exclusion for any liability or loss "arising out of property you acquire by foreclosure, repossession, deed in lieu of foreclosure or as mortgagee in possession.” The district court granted Federal summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit vacated, applying Pennsylvania law. Summary judgment was inappropriate given the open question of material fact: who possessed the property at the time of the fire. Apex instructed its realtor to post a notice informing the Dais how to obtain keys for the new locks. Apex urged the Dais to inspect and secure the property. In July 2009, Dai ordered a handyman to board up the property after being cited for building code violations. In October 2009, Dai entered into a settlement to cure the code infractions by November 2010. He failed to do so and served 180 days in jail. Apex had no contact with the property after April 2009. View "Apex Mortgage Corp. v. Great Northern Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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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

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Grubhub, an online and mobile food-ordering and delivery marketplace, considers its delivery drivers to be independent contractors rather than employees. The plaintiffs alleged, in separate suits, that Grubhub violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay them overtime but each plaintiff had signed a “Delivery Service Provider Agreement” that required them to submit to arbitration for “any and all claims” arising out of their relationship with Grubhub. Grubhub moved to compel arbitration. The plaintiffs responded that their Grubhub contracts were exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Section 1 of the FAA provides that “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” 9 U.S.C. 1. Both district courts compelled arbitration.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The FAA carves out a narrow exception to the obligation of federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements. To show that they fall within this exception, the plaintiffs had to demonstrate that the interstate movement of goods was a central part of the job description of the class of workers to which they belong. They did not even try to do that. View "Wallace v. Grubhub Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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RYZE, an Indiana business, employs remote workers across the U.S., including Billings, who signed an employment agreement with a forum‐selection clause providing for litigation in an Indiana state court or in the Southern District of Indiana. Billings filed suit in California state court. alleging state law claims and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, on behalf of himself and other current and former RYZE employees nationwide.RYZE removed the action to the Eastern District of California, which concluded that Billings had failed to show why the forum‐selection clause should not control and transferred venue under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a) to the Southern District of Indiana. That court granted RYZE summary judgment on Billings’s federal claims. The district court then, sua sponte, returned the case to the Eastern District of California, explaining that its docket was congested and that the California court was familiar with California labor law. When the case was docketed again in the Eastern District of California, RYZE petitioned the Seventh Circuit for a writ of mandamus directing the Southern District of Indiana to request that the Eastern District of California return the action to the Southern District of Indiana. The Seventh Circuit granted that petition, noting that forum‐selection clauses should be given “‘controlling weight in all but the most exceptional cases.’” No exceptional circumstances exist here. View "Ryze Claims Solutions, LLC v. Magnus-Stinson" on Justia Law

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Canadian Pacific filed a federal suit, alleging state-law claims under the court’s diversity jurisdiction. Its suit centered on a trackage rights agreement—a contract governing one railroad’s use of another’s tracks—that the Indiana Harbor had signed with its majority shareholders at a price that Canadian Pacific, which owns 49% of Indiana Harbor, alleged was detrimental to Indiana Harbor’s profitability.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has exclusive authority to regulate trackage rights agreements, or to exempt such agreements from its approval process, and had exempted Indiana Harbor’s agreement; 49 U.S.C. 11321(a) provides that “[a] rail carrier, corporation, or person participating in … [an] exempted transaction is exempt from the antitrust laws and all other law, including State and municipal law, as necessary to let that rail carrier, corporation, or person carry out the transaction.” Canadian Pacific did not contest that section 11321(a) preempted the claims. View "Soo Line Railroad Co. v. Consolidated Rail Corp." on Justia Law

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Hughes bought a ticket from Southwest to fly to Chicago. Just before the flight was to board, Southwest canceled it. Hughes, who chose an alternate flight through Omaha, claims that the cancellation was because Southwest ran out of de-icer and that no other airlines had a similar problem. He claims he incurred additional costs for lodging and similar expenses. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his breach of contract claim. There was no breach; the contract allows the airline to cancel and either reschedule the passenger or refund the fare. There is no implied duty to avoid cancellation. View "Brian Hughes v. Southwest Airlines Co." 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 2014, Cook Medical entered a five-year agreement for Acheron to serve as the distributor of Cook medical devices and products to VA and Department of Defense Medical Centers. Sales to Defense are primarily made through a Distribution and Pricing Agreement (DAPA); sales to the VA require a Federal Supply Schedule (FSS). Cook already had a DAPA, but not an FSS; the agreement required Acheron to obtain an FSS. Cook refused to submit to a required audit of its commercial sales records as required by 48 CFR 515.408(b)(5) to obtain an FSS and refused to deactivate its DAPA, preventing Acheron from selling Cook products to Defense through Acheron’s own DAPA. Cook sent notice that Acheron was in material breach and terminated the agreement 30 days later due to Acheron’s failure to cure. Acheron filed suit.The district court granted Cook summary judgment; Acheron materially breached its obligation to obtain an FSS but owed no damages because the breach was excused by the force majeure clause. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Agreement does not expressly obligate Cook to submit to the VA audit or to deactivate its DAPA. The duty of good faith requires that a party perform its obligations under the contract in good faith but does not require a party to undertake a new, affirmative obligation. Neither party actively sought to sabotage the other party’s performance to escape its own obligations or obtain an unfair advantage. View "Acheron Medical Supply, LLC v. Cook Medical Inc." on Justia Law

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Stampley, the owner-operator of a tractor-trailer, provided hauling services for Altom. Altom agreed to pay Stampley 70% of the gross revenues that it collected for each load he hauled and to give Stampley a copy of the “rated freight bill” or a “computer-generated document with the same information” to prove that it had properly paid Stampley. The contract granted Stampley the right to examine any underlying documents used to create a computer-generated document and required him to bring any dispute regarding his pay within 30 days. Years after he hauled his last Altom load, Stampley filed a putative class action, alleging that Altom had shortchanged him and similarly situated drivers. The district court certified a class and held that Altom’s withholdings had violated the contract. Stampley had moved for summary judgment on the 30-day provision before the class received notice. The court subsequently denied Stampley’s motion for summary judgment, decertified the class, granted Altom summary judgment, and held that Stampley’s individual claims were barred.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding Stampley an inadequate class representative and decertifying the class. The court found that the 30-day period began to run as soon as Stampley received any computer-generated document purporting to have the same information as the rated freight bill, necessarily including those that lacked the same information as the rated freight bill. View "Stampley v. Altom Transport, Inc." on Justia Law

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Taylor fell behind on his mortgage payments during the 2008 financial crisis and sought help under the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP), which allowed eligible homeowners to reduce their monthly mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure. The first step toward a permanent loan modification was for qualifying borrowers to enter into a Trial Period Plan (TPP, 12 U.S.C. 5219(a)(1)) with their lenders and make lower payments on a provisional basis. Taylor’s lender, Chase, sent him a proposed TPP agreement to be signed and returned to Chase to start the process. That agreement stated that the trial period would not begin until both parties signed the TPP and Chase returned to Taylor a copy bearing its signature. Taylor signed the proposed agreement, but Chase never did. Taylor’s loan was never modified. Taylor sued Chase.The district court granted Chase judgment on the pleadings. The breach of contract claim failed because Taylor failed to allege that Chase had signed and returned a copy of the TPP. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Chase never pre-committed to sending Taylor a countersigned copy of the TPP; it expressly reserved the right not to The return of the signed copy was a condition precedent to contract formation. Taylor alleged no actions by Chase from which it could be reasonably inferred that Chase intended to proceed with the trial modification absent a countersignature. View "Taylor v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law