Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

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Valley National Bank ("VNB") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct directing the trial court to dismiss a declaratory-judgment action filed against VNB by Jesse Blount, Wilson Blount, and William Blount. William owned a 33% interest in Alabama Utility Services, LLC ("AUS"). William also served as the president of WWJ Corporation, Inc. ("WWJ"), and WWJ managed AUS. Wilson and Jesse, William's sons, owned all the stock of WWJ. In May 2013, William transferred his 33% interest in AUS to WWJ, and WWJ then owned all the interest in AUS. In July 2015, VNB obtained a $905,599.90 judgment against William in an action separate from the underlying action. On August 31, 2015, Asset Management Professionals, LLC, purchased from WWJ all the assets of AUS for $1,600,000. On July 17, 2018, the Blounts filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a judgment declaring "that a) William's transfer of his interest in AUS to WWJ was not fraudulent as to [VNB], b) William was not the alter ego of AUS or WWJ, c) the sale of AUS did not result in a constructive trust in favor of [VNB], and d) the [Blounts] did not engage in a civil conspiracy." VNB filed an action under the Alabama Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act against the Blounts and others in which it asserted that William had fraudulently transferred assets and sought to pierce the corporate veil of WWJ. After review of the trial court records and documents submitted by the parties, the Alabama Supreme Court determined VNB did not demonstrate a clear legal right to have claims against them dismissed. The court denied the mandamus petition insofar as it sought dismissal of the alter-ego claim and the constructive-trust claim. View "Ex parte Valley National Bank." on Justia Law

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On a winter night in 2014, strong winds blew through the town of Georgia, Vermont, causing a partially constructed livestock barn to collapse. Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. (CCE), the contractor building the barn, sought recompense for the resulting losses from its insurer, Ohio Security Insurance Company. However, insurer and insured disagreed as to policy coverage for costs incurred by CCE in removing the remains of the collapsed barn and rebuilding it to its pre-collapse state. Ultimately, CCE sued Ohio Security for breach of contract. In successive summary-judgment rulings, the trial court held that the contractor’s rebuilding expenses were covered under the policy, but the cost of debris removal was not. Ohio Security cross-appealed the first ruling and CCE appealed the second; the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the first ruling and affirmed the second. The Court determined the additional collapse coverage applied only to “Covered Property,” which was business personal property; CCE did not dispute that the barn was not business personal property and thus was not “Covered Property.” Therefore, the court’s first summary-judgment ruling was reversed. The debris removal was not a loss involving business personal property. As a result, it was not a loss to “Covered Property” at that term was defined by the policy at issue. View "Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. v. Ohio Security Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Oil Capital Ready Mix, LLC; Agape Holdings, LLP; Scott Dyk; and Samuel Dyk (collectively “Dyk”) appealed a judgment awarding Skaw ND Precast LLC (“Skaw”) $69,295 in damages for conversion of its property. In March 2013, Skaw entered into a five-year agreement with Tioga Ready Mix (“Tioga”), a company which produced ready-mix concrete product, to rent a two-acre parcel of land to conduct its business. The base rent for the site was $700 per month, subject to reductions if Skaw purchased designated quantities of ready-mix product from Tioga. The agreement provided it would remain in effect until December 31, 2018, and it did not allow either party to unilaterally cancel the agreement. In spring 2015, Skaw learned that Tioga had arranged to sell Tioga’s assets at a public auction, including the two-acre parcel of property where Skaw conducted its business. Skaw’s owners attended the auction sale in May 2015. The auction service notified all attendees that Skaw’s assets on the premises were not part of the sale, that there was a lease in place between Skaw and Tioga, and that the lease went with the land. Dyk was the successful bidder at the auction and entered into a commercial purchase agreement with the sellers which did not include Skaw’s product inventory or equipment and stated the sale was subject to “rights of tenants,” but did not list Skaw as a tenant. Once Dyk got its ready-mix plant running, Skaw began purchasing concrete ready-mix product from Dyk for its business. When presented with the contract between Skaw and Tioga, Dyk renegotiated the terms; Dyk and Skaw agreed to increase monthly rental payments to $750 per month. During a scheduled shut down of both companies' operations, Dyk built an earthen berm around Skaw’s equipment which prevented Skaw from accessing it. Dyk also transported Skaw’s concrete pad and blocked inventory off of Skaw’s two acres to an area adjacent to Dyk’s offices. Other Skaw assets were transported to undisclosed locations. When Skaw discovered the berm, Dyk informed Skaw that Skaw abandoned their temporary rental agreement in December 2015 and that law enforcement would be notified if there were “any attempts to breach the peace or trespass” on the property. Skaw replied that the 2013 lease was still valid and had not been abandoned, and that Skaw planned to return to the property and continue operations. Dyk argued on appeal of the conversion damages award that the district court erred in ruling the 2013 agreement between Skaw and Tioga was a lease rather than a license. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, it affirmed the judgment. View "Skaw ND Precast, LLC v. Oil Capital Ready Mix, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Hong, the president of ENA, sought to open a restaurant with a license to serve beer and wine in a building owned by 524 Union, which had housed restaurants for many years. After leasing the premises, ENA was unable to open because the San Francisco Planning Department determined that an existing conditional use authorization for the property was no longer effective and a new one could not be granted. ENA sued the lessors, claiming false representations and failure to disclose material facts regarding the problems with the conditional use authorization. A jury awarded ENA compensatory and punitive damages. The court of appeal held that the jury’s verdict on liability, including liability for punitive damages, is supported by substantial evidence. Hong’s testimony was substantial evidence supporting the jury’s verdict. Additional support was provided by evidence of email correspondence around the time Hong entered the lease. The trial court employed an improper procedural mechanism in reducing the amount of the punitive damages award but the jury award was unsupported and Hong effectively stipulated to the reduced amount. View "ENA North Beach, Inc. v. 524 Union Street" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court's review concerned an unjust enrichment claim brought by Kenworth, a commercial truck dealer, against Skinner Trucking, one of its customers. Kenworth claimed Skinner was unjustly enriched when Kenworth paid past due lease payments and the residual balance owed on Skinner’s lease with GE Transportation Finance. The district court entered judgment for Skinner on the grounds that, as to the residual value of the trucks, Kenworth had not conferred a benefit on Skinner, and that as to both the residual value of the trucks and the past due lease payments, Kenworth was an “officious intermeddler” because it had voluntarily paid GE without request by Skinner and without a valid reason. In a subsequent order, the district court denied Skinner’s request for attorney fees under Idaho Code sections 12-120(3) and 12-121. Kenworth appealed the district court’s judgment; Skinner appealed the district court’s order regarding costs and fees. The Supreme Court concluded after review: (1) the "officious intermeddler" rule was not an affirmative defense; the district court did not err in concluding Kenworth was an officious intermeddler; and (3) the district court did not err in determining that Skinner was not entitled to attorney fees under the circumstances. View "Kenworth Sales v. Skinner Trucking" on Justia Law

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Luther Pate IV and New Pate, LLC, filed suit against Chris Hayslip, among others, seeking indemnity and to set aside a particular transfer of funds as fraudulent. Hayslip filed a motion to dismiss Pate and New Pate's action. The circuit court entered an order granting Hayslip's motion as to Pate and New Pate's indemnity claim and denying the motion as to the fraudulent-transfer claim. Hayslip petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate that portion of its order denying Hayslip's motion to dismiss Pate and New Pate's fraudulent-transfer claim and to enter an order granting the entirety of Hayslip's motion to dismiss. In 2005, Hayslip and Harlan Homebuilders, Inc., formed The Townes of North River Development Company, LLC ("Townes Development Company"), to develop a residential subdivision. Christopher Dobbs and Teresa Dobbs owned Harlan Homebuilders. At some point, a dispute arose as to the ownership of Townes Development Company. In June 2007, Hayslip and Harlan Homebuilders mediated the dispute and agreed to a settlement in which Hayslip and Harlan Homebuilders would sign a new operating agreement for Townes Development Company indicating that Hayslip owned 70% of Townes Development Company and that Harlan Homebuilders owned the remaining 30%. As part of the settlement agreement, the parties further agreed that the Dobbses would purchase Hayslip's 70% interest in Townes Development Company. However, the Dobbses subsequently claimed that they had been fraudulently induced into entering into the settlement agreement and determined to sue Hayslip and Townes Development Company alleging fraud and other business torts. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Hayslip demonstrated the circuit court should have granted his motion to dismiss Pate and New Pate's fraudulent-transfer claim. Hayslip's petition for mandamus relief was granted. View "Ex parte Chris W. Hayslip." on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the tax court's judgment that certain partnership currency option transactions lacked economic substance and were shams designed to look like real world trades without any of the risk or concomitant opportunity for profit. The court held that the tax court did not clearly err in concluding that the parties agreed in advance on the exact rates to be used in determining earnings and losses under the option agreements, together with a related evidentiary point. In this case, the parties fixed the forward exchange rates, ensuring that they could predict the precise amount that the winning and losing trades would pay—and ensuring that the trades had no ex ante profit potential and lacked any other legitimate nontax business purposes. The court rejected the partnerships' remaining claims and held that the tax court did not err in any material respect. View "Endeavor Partners Fund, LLC v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the potential liability of two private equity funds for pension fund withdrawal owed by a company owned by the two funds when the company went bankrupt, the First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court holding the two funds jointly and severally responsible for the company's withdrawal liability, holding that summary judgment should be granted to the two funds. At issue was whether two private equity funds, Sun Capital Partners III, LP (Sun Fund III) and Sun Capital Partners IV, LP (Sun Fund IV), were liable for $4.5 million in pension fund withdrawal liability owed by a brass manufacturing company that was owned by the Sun Funds when the manufacturing company went bankrupt. Under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, the issue of liability depended on whether the two funds had created an implied partnership-in-fact that constituted a control group. That question, in turn, depended on the application of the partnership test in Luna v. Commissioner, 42 T.C. 1067 (1964). The district court that there was an implied partnership-in-fact constituting a control group. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the Luna test was not met in this case and that there was no firm indication of congressional intent to impose liability on the private investors. View "Sun Capital Partners III, LP v. New England Teamsters & Trucking Industry Pension Fund" on Justia Law

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This case challenged a circuit court default judgment against Muhammad Wasim Sadiq Ali and others in favor of Mike Williamson after a case ordered to private arbitration was remanded to the trial court. Williamson, Patrick Watson, Ali, and others formed RPM, a regional supplier of rental cranes based in Birmingham, in 2008. Williamson was employed as RPM's general manager. Ali was the primary investor and majority owner of RPM, and Ali and Watson allegedly represented to Williamson at the time RPM was formed that Williamson would own a 12% share of the company. In 2012, Watson and Ali told Williamson that, in order to accrue his 12% equity interest in RPM at the end of his five-year employment term, he needed to pay $1,000,000, and that, if Williamson could not pay, his employment would be terminated unless he signed an employment agreement. Williamson signed an employment agreement with RPM which contained an arbitration clause. The employment agreement also contained a noncompetition clause that prohibited Williamson, for two years following the termination of his employment with RPM, from competing with RPM and from being employed by any business that is in competition with RPM. In 2013, a dispute between Williamson and RPM arose concerning Williamson's insurance coverage with respect to RPM vehicles. RPM terminated Williamson's employment "for cause," citing his failure to obtain an appropriate certificate of insurance. In 2014, Williamson filed a complaint against RPM Cranes, LLC ("RPM"), asserting claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, unreasonable restraint of trade, and misrepresentation arising from his alleged ownership of, his employment with, and the termination of that employment with RPM. Ali contended the default judgment was void because the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed, and reversed and remanded. View "Ali v. Williamson" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision holding that a $52 million payment from taxpayer's predecessor in interest to the predecessor's subsidiary was not a bad debt under 26 U.S.C. 166 or an ordinary and necessary business expense under 26 U.S.C. 162. In this case, BJ Parent's $52 million payment to BJ Russia created no debt owed to BJ Parent, and the payment discharged no guarantor obligation of BJ Parent's. Therefore, the court held that the payment was not deductible as a bad debt under Section 166. Furthermore, the court held that the IRS correctly disallowed any deduction based on the Free Financial Aid (FFA) as an ordinary and necessary business expense under section 162. The court explained that the FFA was not an expense of BJ Parent, and it was not provided to pay any expense of BJ Russia. The court reasoned that even if BJ Parent's long-term strategy included recapitalizing its Russian subsidiary to meet Russian capitalization requirements, this did not itself make the funds deductible. View "Baker Hughes, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law