Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Brickstructures, Inc. v. Coaster Dynamix, Inc.
Brickstructures and Coaster executed a fill‐in‐the‐blank joint venture agreement to design a roller coaster kit, compatible with LEGOs. Many of the blanks went unfilled. The agreement contained an arbitration clause. They successfully released one product but the relationship fizzled. Coaster independently launched another LEGO‐compatible kit, without any credit to Brickstructures. Brickstructures sued, claiming that Coaster breached the agreement and its fiduciary duties and violated the Lanham Act. Coaster moved to dismiss, arguing that the arrangement was not an enforceable contract. The court dismissed the complaint for a jurisdictional defect. An amendment cured that issue. Coaster again moved to dismiss, arguing that the amended complaint did not allege a binding joint venture or, alternatively, that arbitration was the exclusive forum for the claims. Brickstructures demanded that Coaster withdraw the arbitration arguments, claiming Coaster waived them by not advancing them in its first motion. Coaster formally withdrew those arguments. The court found that the amended complaint adequately alleged a binding agreement. Coaster then moved to compel arbitration. The court found that Coaster waived arbitration, rejecting an argument that it was reasonable to abandon an arbitration demand in acquiescence to Brickstructures’s threat to seek sanctions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. "Having put the arbitration card on the table and then taken it back, Coaster was not permitted to play that card again." A court has the discretion to allow recission of a waiver of the right to arbitrate only in “abnormal” circumstances, View "Brickstructures, Inc. v. Coaster Dynamix, Inc." on Justia Law
Lexington Insurance Co. v. Chicago Flameproof & Wood Specialties Corp.
Flameproof, a distributor of fire retardant and treated lumber (FRT lumber), maintained liability insurance through Lexington, covering liability for "property damage” that is “caused by an occurrence that takes place in the coverage territory.” “Occurrence” is defined as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” “Property damage” is “physical injury to tangible property, including all resulting loss of that property,” or loss of use of property that is not physically injured. Three lawsuits arose from Flameproof’s sale of lumber to Minnesota-based contractors. The contracts called for FRT lumber meeting the requirements of the International Building Code (IBC). The complaints alleged that Flameproof “unilaterally” decided to deliver its in-house FlameTech brand lumber, which purportedly was not IBC-compliant. After the material was installed, the owners discovered that the lumber was not IBC-certified. Flameproof “admitted” that it had shipped FlameTech lumber rather than the FRT lumber advertised on its website and ordered. The FlameTech lumber was removed and replaced, damaging the surrounding materials. The lawsuits alleged negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent misrepresentation, deceptive business practices, false advertising, consumer fraud, breach of warranties, and breach of contract. Lexington sought a ruling that it owed no duty to defend Flameproof. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Lexington. The underlying complaints do not allege an “occurrence”—or accident—as required to trigger Lexington’s duty to defend under the policy. View "Lexington Insurance Co. v. Chicago Flameproof & Wood Specialties Corp." on Justia Law
Antrim Pharmaceuticals LLC v. Bio-Pharm, Inc.
The patent for Lexapro, an anti-depressant, was expiring, creating a potentially lucrative opportunity to sell a generic version, escitalopram. BioPharm, a generic drug manufacturer, and Antrim planned to sign an updated version of the terms for a previous venture, but never signed a contract for the escitalopram venture. The FDA approved Antrim’s Abbreviated New Drug Application for escitalopram. Bio-Pharm manufactured the first batch but never shipped it to Antrim because the companies never signed a new agreement. Antrim sued Bio-Pharm for breaching an oral contract. Bio-Pharm counterclaimed, arguing promissory estoppel or breach of the claimed oral contract. Antrim unsuccessfully argued the court should preclude testimony by Bio-Pharm’s expert on how the FDA regulates ANDA holders. BioPharm successfully argued the court should preclude testimony by Antrim’s expert on industry practices and how Bio-Pharm’s alleged breach impaired the value of Antrim’s business. The court rejected Antrim’s proposed Jury Instruction that under FDA policy an ANDA holder owns the product underlying that ANDA and denied Antrim’s motion to bar Bio-Pharm from requesting lost profits in its counterclaim, despite missing the Rule 26(a)(1) disclosure deadline. A jury ruled in favor of Bio-Pharm on Antrim’s claim and in favor of Antrim on Bio-Pharm’s counterclaim. Neither party was awarded damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Antrim’s challenges to the jury instructions, evidentiary rulings, and allowing Bio-Pharm to request lost profits. View "Antrim Pharmaceuticals LLC v. Bio-Pharm, Inc." on Justia Law
Crosby v. City of Chicago
Crosby fell three stories from a window before Chicago Officer Gonzalez arrested him. Crosby maintains that Gonzalez intentionally pushed him through the window and then falsely claimed—with corroboration from other officers—that Crosby possessed a gun. Crosby was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. After an Illinois appellate court reversed his conviction, Crosby filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, naming only Gonzalez and suing only for excessive force. The parties settled; the court dismissed Gonzalez’s claims with prejudice. The agreement was between Crosby, Gonzalez, and the city, though the latter had not been named as a defendant. It provided that Crosby would receive $5,000 to release "all claims he had or has against Gonzalez, the city, and its future, current or former officers … , including but not limited to all claims he had, has, or may have in the future, under local, state, or federal law, arising either directly or indirectly out of the incident which was the basis of this litigation." It stipulated that Crosby’s attorney read and explained its contents to Crosby. Three years later, Crosby filed another suit, naming the city, Gonzalez, and the officers who corroborated Gonzalez’s story, focusing on the alleged lie that he possessed a gun and his subsequent prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment. The court rejected the suit, awarding the city $2,131.60 for the printing of transcripts of Crosby’s state-court criminal proceedings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Crosby released all claims “arising either directly or indirectly out of the incident.” Even if “the incident” refers to Crosby’s fall rather than the arrest as a whole, Crosby’s claims regarding the coverup plainly “aris[e] from” the incident being covered up. The release language encompasses his claims for wrongs committed after his arrest. Crosby has not shown that the city’s requested costs were unreasonable. View "Crosby v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law
Warciak v. Subway Restaurants, Inc.
T-Mobile customers can participate in “T-Mobile Tuesdays,” a promotional service, offering free items and discounts. Customers who no longer wish to receive marketing communications may opt-out by contacting T-Mobile’s customer service. T-Mobile user Warciak received a text message: This T-Mobile Tuesday, score a free 6” Oven Roasted Chicken sub at SUBWAY, just for being w/ T-Mobile. Ltd supply. Get app for details. The message came from T-Mobile. Warciak was not charged for the text. Warciak sued Subway claiming Subway engaged in a common-law agency relationship with T-Mobile, and that Subway’s conduct violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). T-Mobile is not included in the lawsuit. The court dismissed the complaint as lacking sufficient support for claims of actual and apparent authority: control over the timing, content, or recipients of the text message. The court also found that the wireless carrier exemption applied so that no underlying TCPA violation exists ( 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(2)(C)). Prior written consent is not required for calls to a wireless customer by his wireless carrier if the customer is not charged. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The only alleged conduct by Subway is its contractual relationship with T-Mobile. Warciak’s complaint lacks sufficient facts showing Subway manifested to the public that T-Mobile was its agent. He relied on T-Mobile’s conduct. Statements by an agent are insufficient to create apparent authority without also tracing the statements to a principal’s manifestations or control. View "Warciak v. Subway Restaurants, Inc." on Justia Law
Lexington Insurance Co. v. RLI Insurance Co.
Prime, a trucking company, covered its own liability without insurance for the first $3 million per occurrence and bought excess liability insurance from multiple insurers, following a common industry practice of stacking policies into sequential “layers” of excess insurance coverage. Two accidents occurred in 2015 when Prime was covered by RLI and AIG policies. The two cases settled for $36 million. Prime was covered $3 million for each occurrence. The RLI Policy provided the next layer of coverage with an “Aggregate Corridor Deductible” (ACD) that obligated Prime to pay out an additional $2.5 million annually before RLI began to pay. RLI argued that the ACD sat within RLI’s $2 million layer, leaving RLI with no responsibility for any payment until Prime had both paid $3 million per occurrence and the year’s ACD. AIG argued that the ACD sat below RLI’s $2 million layer, so AIG’s duty to pay would not be triggered until Prime and RLI had together paid $7.5 million for the first occurrence. The district court found that payments toward the ACD erode RLI’s policy layer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The custom-tailored ACD feature of the RLI Policy was ambiguous but undisputed extrinsic evidence shows that RLI is correct. RLI has consistently expressed that Prime’s ACD payments reduce its responsibility for losses; Prime did not disagree before this dispute. The only reasonable inference from the parties’ negotiations is that AIG did not believe the ACD affected the threshold at which its layer began—$5 million per occurrence. View "Lexington Insurance Co. v. RLI Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Abellan v. Lavelo Property Management, LLC
A New York owner of a fast-food property in Illinois, which was rented by an Arizona tenant, sold the property to buyers in California (Abellan). The tenant declared bankruptcy and never paid rent to its new landlord. Abellan sued. A jury found the purchase agreement rescindable for mutual mistake and the sellers liable for fraud and breach of contract and awarded damages of more than $2 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The sellers warranted to Abellan that there was “no default by Seller, or to Seller’s knowledge ... under the Lease.” A critical provision of the lease required the tenant to operate its restaurant business continuously. the jury had sufficient evidence to find a breach of the no-default warranty “to Seller’s knowledge” and Abellan reasonably relied on the no-default warranty. The court rejected claims of waiver and that the jury’s findings on damages and reliance were contrary to the weight of the evidence. View "Abellan v. Lavelo Property Management, LLC" on Justia Law
Stone v. Signode Industrial Group LLC
Signode assumed an obligation to pay health-care benefits to a group of retired steelworkers and their families. Signode then exercised its right to terminate the underlying benefits agreement and also stopped providing the promised benefits to the retired steelworkers and their families, despite contractual language providing that benefits would not be “terminated … notwithstanding the expiration” of the underlying agreement. The retirees and the union filed suit under the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s entry of a permanent injunction, ordering Signode to reinstate the benefits. The agreement provided for vested benefits that would survive the agreement’s termination. While there is no longer a presumption in favor of lifetime vesting, the court applied ordinary contract law interpretation rules and concluded that the agreement unambiguously provided retirees with vested lifetime health-care benefits. Even if the agreement were ambiguous, industry usage and the behavior of the parties here provide enough evidence to support vesting such that resolution of any ambiguity in favor of the plaintiffs as a matter of law would still be correct. View "Stone v. Signode Industrial Group LLC" on Justia Law
Villas at Winding Ridge v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.
A storm caused minor hail damage at the Winding Ridge condominium complex located in Indiana, which was not discovered until almost a year later when a contractor inspected the property to estimate the cost of roof replacement. Winding Ridge submitted an insurance claim to State Farm. The parties inspected the property and exchanged estimates but could not reach an agreement. Winding Ridge demanded an appraisal under the insurance policy. State Farm complied. After exchanging competing appraisals, the umpire upon whom both sides agreed issued an award, which became binding. Winding Ridge filed suit alleging breach of contract, bad faith, and promissory estoppel. The Seventh Circuit held that the appraisal clause is unambiguous and enforceable; there is no evidence that State Farm breached the policy or acted in bad faith when resolving the claim. Winding Ridge’s own appraiser found no hail damage to the roofing shingles on 20 buildings. The fact that Winding Ridge independently replaced the shingles on all 33 buildings for $1.5 million while its claim was pending does not obligate State Farm under the policy or mean State Farm breached the policy. There is no evidence that State Farm delayed payment, deceived Winding Ridge, or exercised an unfair advantage to pressure Winding Ridge to settle. View "Villas at Winding Ridge v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co." on Justia Law
PMT Machinery Sales, Inc. v. Yama Seiki USA, Inc.
Yama Seiki, a California manufacturer of machine tools, sent PMT, a Wisconsin corporation, an exclusive letter of dealership, requiring sales of $1,000,000 or 15 machines in a year and stocking one machine on PMT’s showroom floor. PMT rejected the letter, believing it could not reach the sales requirements. Weeks later, PMT offered to take stock of two machines in exchange for an exclusive-dealer agreement. PMT responded with an application for dealership status and a proposal to negotiate further. Wang, a Yama Seiki manager with whom PMT had negotiated, did not address the offer but responded that he was “not sure if you are aware that you are in ‘exclusive’ status.” PMT never took stock of any machines, but it facilitated sales by soliciting customers, negotiating prices, and connecting customers with Yama Seiki,j who paid Yama Seiki under its usual sales terms. PMT was responsible for installation and warranty work. In 2015-2018, PMT derived 74% of its profits from Yama Seiki sales. More than a year after Wang's “exclusive status” statement, PMT discovered that others were selling Yama Seiki machines in Wisconsin. PMT sued, alleging violations of Wisconsin’s Fair Dealership Law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Yama Seiki. PMT failed to show that it had any dealership agreement with Yama Seiki, much less an exclusive one. PMT never stocked any of its products, collected money for sales, or made more than de minimis use of Yama Seiki’s logos. View "PMT Machinery Sales, Inc. v. Yama Seiki USA, Inc." on Justia Law