Articles Posted in Contracts

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Connecticut imposed liability for breaches of contract when attended by deception. Unhappy with flanges purchased under a contract with PM Engineered Solutions, Inc. (“Powdered Metal”), Bosal Industries-Georgia, Inc. (“Bosal”) decided to switch suppliers and terminate the contract. After a five-day bench trial, the district court found that the termination was not only wrongful in breach of the contract, but that it was deceptive in violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Because Connecticut law applied and the district court’s findings rested on a permissible view of the evidence, the Sixth Circuit affirmed except as to the calculation of postjudgment interest on damages. View "Premium Freight Mgmt. v. PM Engineered Solutions" on Justia Law

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Exel, a shipping broker, sued SRT, an interstate motor carrier, after SRT lost a load of pharmaceuticals owned by Exel’s customer, Sandoz, that was being transported from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. After nearly seven years of litigation, including a prior appeal, the district court entered judgment for Exel and awarded it the replacement cost of the lost pharmaceuticals, approximately $5.9 million. SRT argued that the district court erred in discounting bills of lading that ostensibly limited SRT’s liability to a small fraction of the shipment’s value. Exel argued that the court erred in measuring damages by the replacement cost of the pharmaceuticals rather than by their higher market value. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Exel and SRT had a Master Transportation Services Agreement (MTSA), which stated that any bill of lading “shall be subject to and subordinate to” the MTSA; that SRT “shall be liable” to Exel for any “loss” to commodities shipped pursuant to the agreement; and that the “measurement of the loss . . . shall be the Shipper’s replacement value.” The Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. 14706 “puts the burden on the carrier to demonstrate that the parties had a written agreement to limit the carrier’s liability, irrespective [of] whether the shipper drafted the bill of lading.” SRT did not carry its burden to show that it effectively limited its liability. View "Exel, Inc. v. Southern Refrigerated Transport, Inc." on Justia Law

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Henderson, a patient with Alzheimer’s disease at Watermark’s nursing home, wandered from her room unattended and died after drinking detergent that she found in a kitchen cabinet. Henderson’s estate filed a wrongful death suit against Watermark. Morrison provided kitchen services at the facility and its employees had been in the kitchen shortly before Henderson discovered the detergent, but Watermark did not implead Morrison and argued that Morrison’s employees had properly locked the cabinet before leaving. A jury awarded $5.08 million. Watermark did not appeal but settled with Henderson’s estate for $3.65 million. On a joint motion, the court dismissed the action with prejudice. Months later, Watermark sued Morrison for contractual indemnification and breach of contract. The district court dismissed, finding that issue preclusion barred both claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. While a judgment that is set aside upon settlement can be used for collateral-estoppel purposes in future litigation, only the contractual indemnification issue is barred. Under the parties’ contract, Watermark can prevail on its indemnification claim only by showing that the damages it seeks were not the result of its own negligence. It cannot do so; the jury determined that the damages were the result of Watermark’s negligence. The jury’s finding of negligence does not, however, preclude Watermark from going forward with its breach-of-contract claim, which does not rely on the indemnity provision of the parties’ contract. View "Watermark Senior Living Communities, Inc. v. Morrison Management Specialists, Inc." on Justia Law

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Local Union 3-G represents employees at Kellogg’s Battle Creek plant and is affiliated with the International Union, which represents employees at additional Kellogg’s plants. “Regular” employees and “non-regular” employees, including casual employees, make up the 3-G bargaining unit. There is a Master Agreement between Kellogg, the International Union, and local unions at four plants, which have Supplemental Agreements. A Memorandum of Agreement, appended to the Battle Creek Supplemental Agreement, states that the Supplemental and Master Agreements will not apply to casual employees and the Company may terminate casual employees without being subject to the grievance procedure. A 2015 Master Agreement “established wage rates, a signing ratification bonus for all employees, the establishment of a transitional employee classification to replace casual employees, and other changes" for all Battle Creek bargaining unit employees. After the ratification vote, Kellogg refused to pay a ratification bonus to casual employees, seasonal employees, and some regular employees. The parties went through the grievance procedure, but Kellogg refused to arbitrate, arguing that the arbitration provisions do not apply to casual employees. The Sixth Circuit previously held that arbitration provisions in the “Memphis Supplemental Agreement” did not cover casual employees. The district court determined that judicial estoppel did not apply to the Battle Creek action and granted the motion to compel arbitration. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, The Agreement has a broad arbitration clause, so the presumption of arbitrability is particularly applicable. View "Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union AFL-CIO v. Kellogg Co." on Justia Law

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Some of KVG’s commercial tenants got caught growing marijuana in their rental units and caused substantial damage to the premises before the police caught them. KVG speedily evicted the tenants and sought coverage from its insurers for nearly $500,000 in related losses. Westfield denied the claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Westfield, reasoning that the damage was excluded by the policy, which is the Building and Personal Property Coverage Form. Under this Form, Westfield agreed to pay for “direct physical loss of or damage to Covered Property . . . caused by or resulting from any Covered Cause of Loss.” A “Covered Cause of Loss” is any “Risk[] Of Direct Physical Loss,” with several exclusions, including that Westfield “will not pay for loss or damage caused by or resulting from” any “[d]ishonest or criminal act by you, any of your partners, members, officers, managers, employees (including leased employees), directors, trustees, authorized representatives or anyone to whom you entrust the property for any purpose.” While cultivating marijuana is a crime under federal law, it is protected by Michigan law under certain conditions but no reasonable jury could find that KVG’s tenants complied with Michigan law. View "K.V.G. Properties, Inc. v. Westfield Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In 2008, Midwest hired Plaintiff. In 2015, Plaintiff informed Midwest that she was pregnant. Plaintiff claims her supervisor made negative comments and was annoyed by Plaintiff’s absences for pre-natal appointments. About three months later, Plaintiff was terminated “[d]espite … no record of discipline.” Plaintiff testified that Midwest’s president presented Plaintiff with an agreement and said that she “needed to sign then if [she] wanted any severance,” that she felt bullied and signed the agreement, which provided that Plaintiff would waive “any and all past, current and future claims” against Midwest. Plaintiff later stated that she assumed that "claims" referred to unpaid wages or benefits. Midwest paid and Plaintiff accepted $4,000. Plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC, then filed suit, alleging that Midwest terminated her because of her pregnancy, that Midwest has a sex-segregated workforce, and discrimination in compensation, citing Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e(k); 42 U.S.C. 1981a; Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act; and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. 206(d). After filing, Plaintiff returned the $4,00, saying that she was “rescinding the severance agreement.” The Sixth Circuit reversed summary judgment entered in favor of the Defendant. Under the tender-back doctrine, contracts tainted by mistake, duress, or even fraud are voidable at the option of the innocent party if the innocent party first tenders back any benefits received; if she fails to do so within a reasonable time after learning of her rights, she ratifies the contract. The doctrine does not apply to claims under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. View "McClellan v. Midwest Machining, Inc." on Justia Law

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Auburn bought Chrysler parts for resale to Cypros, which then sold those parts to customers in the Middle East. The FBI raided Cypros’ warehouse and charged its president, Kilani, with trafficking in counterfeit goods. Unbeknownst to Auburn, Kilani had been obtaining counterfeit parts, mixing them with the legitimate Chrysler parts received from Auburn, and selling the commingled parts to customers. When Chrysler learned of the scheme, it terminated its relationship with Auburn. Auburn brought tortious interference claims and a breach of contract claim against Cypros that the district court dismissed, stating that Cypros did not specifically intend to interfere with Auburn’s relationship with Chrysler and that Cypros and Auburn did not have a written contract. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that Michigan tortious interference law requires the specific intent to interfere with a business relationship and that the Michigan statute of frauds applied. View "Auburn Sales, Inc. v. Cypros Trading & Shipping, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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ATC, a Michigan manufacturer, outsources orders, including to YiFeng, a Chinese company. ATC pays vendors in four separate payments, based on manufacturing progress. YiFeng emails ATC invoices. On March 18, 2015, ATC’s vice-president, Gizinski, emailed YiFeng employee Chen requesting all outstanding invoices. An unidentified third party intercepted this email, and impersonating Chen, began corresponding with Gizinski. On March 27, the impersonator emailed Gizinski that, due to an audit, ATC should wire its payments to a different account from usual. YiFeng had previously, legitimately informed ATC it had changed its banking details; ATC had no process for verifying the information. Gizinski wired the money to the new account. On April 3, the impersonator emailed Gizinski, stating that “due to some new bank rules,” the previous transfer was not credited to its account so it would return the payment. The impersonator requested that Gizinski wire the money to a different bank account. Gizinski wired the money to this new account. The impersonator ran this scam twice more. Gizinski wired additional payments of $1575 and $482,640.41. When the real YiFeng demanded payment, ATC paid YiFeng approximately 50% of the outstanding debt; the remaining 50% was contingent on ATC’s insurance claim. ATC sought recovery from Travelers, under the Policy’s “Computer Fraud” provision. Travelers denied the claim. ATC sued for breach of contract. The court granted Travelers summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Computer fraud “directly caused” ATC’s “direct loss” and no exclusion applied. View "American Tooling Center, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty & Surety Co." on Justia Law

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Lossia used a Flagstar Bank checking account to initiate Automated Clearing House (ACH) transactions--electronic payments made from one bank account to another. Common ACH transactions include online bill pay and an employee’s direct deposit. The account agreement states: Our policy is to process wire transfers, phone transfers, online banking transfers, in branch transactions, ATM transactions, debit card transactions, ACH transactions, bill pay transactions and items we are required to pay, such as returned deposited items, first—as they occur on their effective date for the business day on which they are processed.” National Automated Clearing House Association Operating Rules and Guidelines define an ACH transaction's effective date as “the date specified by the Originator on which it intends a batch of Entries to be settled.” In practice, this date is whatever date the merchant or bank submits the transaction to the Federal Reserve, which includes this settlement date in the batch records that it submits to the receiving institution (Flagstar), which processes the transactions in the order that they were presented by the Federal Reserve in the batch files. Lossia asserted that the order in which Flagstar processed his transactions caused him to incur multiple overdrafts rather than just one. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Flagstar; the plain language of the agreement does not require Flagstar to process transactions in the order that the customer initiated them. View "Lossia v. Flagstar Bancorp, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Contracts

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Leone’s employer used a degasser, a large vat lined with brick, to extract gas impurities from molten steel. The degasser’s components include an alloy chute near the top of the vat. The employer hired BMI to “tearout” the degasser’s deteriorated face brick. Although the contract did not include any work on the alloy chute, a BMI employee testified that his team would dislodge loose material from the chute to ensure that nothing could fall. He did not notice any loose slag on the chute. After BMI finished, his employer assigned Leone to reline the degasser. Leone and his crew frequently climbed ladders near the alloy chute. They never spotted any loose slag on the chute but, 21 days after BMI completed its one-day job, a 40-pound piece of slag fell and struck Leone. Leone sued, claiming that the slag detached from the alloy chute. Because no molten metal could have created new slag, the court concluded that the slag must have existed when BMI finished but that BMI owed Leone no duty of care under Michigan law. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court interpreted Michigan law too narrowly. Although a contractor’s creation of a new hazard can trigger a duty to third parties, that is not the only way that such a duty might arise. A contractor can be liable to a third party if “any legal duty independent of the contract existed,” including by voluntary assumption of a duty. View "Leone v. BMI Refractory Services., Inc." on Justia Law