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

Articles Posted in Contracts
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In March 2020, Bradley University closed its campus and canceled in-person activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It canceled one week of classes as it migrated to remote learning. Bradley resumed classes virtually and offered remote activities and resources. The campus remained closed for the rest of the semester. Bradley never rescheduled the week of canceled classes; the Spring 2020 Semester was 14 weeks instead of the planned 15 weeks of classes listed in Bradley’s Catalog, which stated: “This catalog serves as a contract between a student and Bradley.” Full-time, on-campus students had paid $17,100 in tuition and an $85 activity fee. The University provided pro-rata refunds for room and board to students who were forced to leave on-campus housing but did not refund tuition or activity fees.Eddlemon filed a purported class action, alleging that Bradley breached an implied contract to provide 15 weeks of classes and on-campus activities, and, alternatively that the University’s retention of tuition and activity fees constituted unjust enrichment. The district court certified a “Tuition Class” and an “Activity Fee Class.” The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court did not conduct the rigorous analysis required by Rule 23 for class certification but repeatedly referred to Eddlemon’s allegations without addressing his proffered evidence or examining how he would prove his allegations with common evidence. View "Eddlemon v. Bradley Universityx" on Justia Law

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At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, IIT, a nonprofit higher education institution, suspended all in-person instruction, moved all classes online, and restricted access to campus facilities. IIT did not refund tuition or mandatory fees to its students. Before the pandemic, IIT undergraduates were not permitted to register for an online class without special approval and were required to live on campus. Hernandez, a student who paid tuition and fees for the Spring 2020 semester, filed a purported class action, alleging that an express or implied contract was formed under which the university promised to provide in-person instruction, services, and resources, in exchange for tuition and compulsory fees, citing Activity Fees, Student Services Fees, Professional Co-Curricular Fees, and Studio Fees. He also raised an unjust enrichment theory, based on IIT’s retention of students’ full tuition and fees.The district court dismissed, finding that Hernandez failed to identify any specific promise to provide in-person, on-campus instruction to support a breach-of-contract claim and that Hernandez failed to state a claim for unjust enrichment. While his appeal was pending, the Seventh Circuit decided "Gociman," finding that Loyola University students adequately stated claims for breach of an implied contract under Illinois law. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Hernandez’s case, finding no meaningful distinctions between his case and Gociman. View "Hernandez v. Illinois Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

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Ron and Lorrie Meier investigated the purchase of a life insurance policy for Ron through Monarch Solutions. While they considered a policy offered by Lincoln, a nurse assessed Ron’s health and prepared a “Medical Supplement” and “Examiner’s Report.” Ron ultimately applied for a policy with Pacific. In June 2018, Pacific received a copy of the medical forms previously submitted to Lincoln. On July 26, Ron completed his Pacific application, referencing the Lincoln “medical examination.” Ron agreed to several terms, including a provision requiring him to update Pacific “in writing of any changes” to his health. Pacific accepted Ron’s application on July 30 and began the underwriting process. On August 6, Ron learned he had stage IV lung cancer and immediately began treatment. Ron and Lorrie orally disclosed Ron’s cancer diagnosis to their Monarch representative but did not inform Pacific. On September 6, Pacific delivered Ron's policy. A year later Ron died from lung cancer.After learning that Ron had failed to disclose his terminal cancer before the policy’s issuance date, Pacific rejected Lorrie’s claim. Pursuant to the Illinois Insurance Code, Pacific rescinded the policy and returned the premiums. The district court and Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of Pacific. Ron’s failure to inform Pacific of the diagnosis constituted a material misrepresentation allowing for the policy's rescission. View "Meier v. Pacific Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Fun's warehouse had a functional sprinkler system with a working water supply. In 2016, an inspector from Legacy found no problems. In 2017, the inspector found the system had no water pressure. South Bend Water Works could not explain the problem and had no record of shutting off the water. Two months later, Fun contacted the fire inspector, who did not know how to restore the water. Fun's owner again called the Water Works and was told there was no record of disconnection. He asked the operator to restore the water and “assumed that she was going to ... figure out what was going on.” Fun never heard from any Water Works personnel and did not check whether the water was restored. In 2018, another Legacy employee performed the inspection. Fun was not notified of any problems. A fire destroyed the warehouse in 2019. Fun claimed losses exceeding $7 million. The city apparently had capped the pipe supplying the sprinkler system in 2017 when the neighboring building was demolished. Fun's Frankenmuth insurance policy contained an exclusion for situations in which the insured knew of any suspension or impairment in any protective safeguard, including sprinkler systems, and failed to notify Frankenmuth.Frankenmuth obtained a declaratory judgment that it did not owe insurance coverage. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Cao had knowledge in 2017 that the system had no water yet never reported that impairment nor determined that the problem was solved. View "Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance Co. v. Fun F/X II, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ross worked as a sales representative for First Financial until 2018. Ross sued First Financial and two of its senior executives for sales commissions he claimed he was owed. Under the terms of his employment contract, Ross could earn a commission both when a customer first leased an item from First Financial and then at the end of a lease term, if the customer either extended the lease or purchased the equipment outright. In early 2017, First Financial acted to reduce future commission rates. Ross argued that First Financial breached his contract by applying the new, lower commission rates to end-of-lease transactions that occurred after the change took effect if the leases originally began before the change.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The company’s commission payments to Ross were correct because commissions on end-of-lease transactions are not earned until the customer actually agrees to and pays for the new transactions. Although Ross was reluctant to accept the new plan, he still accepted it by continuing to work for First Financial under its terms. View "Ross v. First Financial Corporate Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Traders set up accounts with Trean, a Chicago Mercantile Exchange introducing broker, managing the customer side of the futures-trading business. Stone handled the trading side. The traders engaged in naked trading—speculating rather than hedging. Stone set a high margin accordingly. Stone was a principal in all trades and, with the clearing house bore, the immediate economic risk; Trean guaranteed Stone’s positions and shared in its commissions. The market did not cooperate. Trean learned that the traders had not met Stone’s margin call and were not cooperating with Stone. Trean told the traders that it would close their accounts but that they were free to deal directly with Stone. Stone thereafter prohibited any trades that would increase the holdings’ net risk. The traders liquidated. Of the $1,020,000 with which they began, they lost $548,000.The traders sued, contending that their contract with Trean did not allow it to cease dealing with them for the reason given and that Trean’s decision led Stone to impose unacceptable conditions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Trean. Regardless of whether Trean was entitled to end its dealings with the traders, no reasonable jury could find that Trean injured them. Trean’s decision did not affect the value of their futures contracts; they did not have a greater loss than they would have by moving their accounts to a different introducing broker and retaining Stone. View "Daneshrad v. Trean Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Ramos settled his lawsuits against Cook County Jail correctional officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 that alleged a failure to protect Ramos from another inmate and the use of excessive force. The settlement agreements contained an identical 262-word sentence—labeled a general release—that released Cook County and its employees from all claims. Months later, Ramos filed another section 1983 lawsuit against two Cook County police officers based on a 2016 arrest that occurred after the events that lead to the first two lawsuits but prior to the execution of the settlement agreements.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants. “While the rambling, 262- word sentence is no model of clarity,” it unambiguously released Ramos’s claims arising out of the 2016 arrest. Three phrases signal that Ramos released all foreseeable claims against Cook County “and its agents, employees and former employees,” including those stemming from his 2016 arrest when he signed the settlement agreements in 2017. View "Ramos v. Piech" on Justia Law

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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

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Page sued Alliant Credit Union under the Electronic Fund Transfers Act, 15 U.S.C. 1693–1693r, and state law on behalf of herself and other similarly situated customers, alleging that Alliant charged fees in violation of its contract. Alliant charges a nonsufficient fund (NSF) fee when it rejects an attempted debit because an account lacks sufficient funds to cover the transaction. Page argued that the contract requires Alliant to assess NSF fees using the “ledger-balance method” and only allowed one NSF fee per transaction, while Alliant claimed that the contract permits it to use the “available-balance method.”The district court dismissed Page’s claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Analyzing the contract under Illinois principles of construction, it is not ambiguous and it does not prohibit Alliant from using the available-balance method to charge NSF fees. Alliant does not promise not to charge multiple fees when a transaction is presented to it multiple times. View "Page v. Alliant Credit Union" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Contracts
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Riegel, seeking to build a condominium development in Isla Mujeres, formed ISLA and borrowed millions of dollars from the Hovdes. The project failed. More than 10 years later, the Hovdes sued ISLA and Riegel.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment on the claim based on the Mortgage Note, citing the 10-year limitations period, and later holding that the limitations defense could be asserted against Riegel as the guarantor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. An acceleration clause provided that if a Default occurred, the outstanding unpaid principal and interest would automatically become immediately due, triggering the 10-year limitations period. One such “Default” was an “Act of Bankruptcy,” defined to include admitting in writing the inability to pay debts as they mature. Two emails sent by Riegel to the Hovdes constituted an admission in writing of inability to pay debts: an August 7, 2008 email, asking for an advance to pay a tax bill, and a subsequent email indicating that all construction workers had been suspended. The language does not require actual insolvency; it merely requires an admission of an inability to pay the debts, whether or not true. The terms “continuing, absolute, and unconditional” are terms of art when used in guarantees and do not waive the limitations defense. View "Hovde v. ISLA Development LLC" on Justia Law