Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court of Texas answered two certified questions, holding that the time for determining the existence and amount of unpaid commission due under Tex. Bus. & Com. Code section 54.001(1) is the time the jury or trial court determines the liability of the defendant, whether at trial or through another dispositive trial-court process such as a summary judgment; and that a plaintiff may recover attorney's fees and costs under section 54.004(2) even if the plaintiff does not receive treble damages, if the factfinder determines that the fees and costs were reasonably incurred under the circumstances. The Fifth Circuit held that CPTS was not entitled to treble damages, and the district court was thus correct to grant summary judgment to Horsburgh on the treble damages claim. In this case, there were no unpaid commissions due at the time of judgment, because Horsburgh had already paid all of its outstanding commissions, plus interest. The court also held that CPTS was eligible for attorney's fees simply by virtue of Horsburgh's breach. Therefore, the district court correctly concluded that CPTS was not entitled to treble damages, but erred by granting summary judgment to Horsburgh without awarding CPTS reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "JCB, Inc. v. The Horsburgh & Scott Co." on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the "beneficial owner" of Alderney Investments, LLC after Rudolf Skowronski, who controlled the company, disappeared, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court entering judgment in favor of Edyta Skowronska, holding that sufficient evidence supported the jury's finding that Edyta and two of her minor children were ninety percent beneficial owners of Alderney. After Rudolf disappeared, conflicting purported transfers of interest in Alderney, a Wyoming limited liability company, led to disputes over the beneficial owner of the company. Management Nominees, Inc. (MNI-Belize) and Alderney (collectively, Appellants) claimed that Rudolf's brother-in-law was the beneficial owner and that MNI-Belize was its sole member. The jury reached a verdict in favor of Edyta, Rudolf's wife. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) sufficient evidence supported the jury's conclusion that Edyta and two of her children were the beneficial owners of ninety percent of Alderney; (2) the district court did not err in declining to enter judgment as a matter of law that MNI-Belize is the sole member of Alderney; and (3) the district court did not err in declining to enter judgment as a matter of law that Edyta was disqualified from participating in Alderney's management. View "Management Nominees, Inc. v. Skowronska" on Justia Law

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For nearly 30 years, Chicago Studio operated the only film studio in Chicago. In 2010, Cinespace opened a new studio. Cinespace rapidly expanded its studio to include 26 more stages and 24 times more floor space than Chicago Studio’s facility. Chicago Studio subsequently failed to attract business and stopped making a profit. Chicago Studio sued the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Film Office, and Steinberg (state actors responsible for promoting the Illinois film industry), alleging that the Defendants unlawfully steered state incentives and business to Cinespace in violation of the Sherman Act and equal protection and due process protections. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of those claims. The Sherman Act claim was properly dismissed because Chicago Studio failed to adequately plead an antitrust injury but merely alleged injuries to Chicago Studio, not to competition. The complaint does not plausibly allege that Defendants conspired to monopolize or attempted to monopolize the Chicago market for operating film studios. The district court properly granted summary judgment on the equal protection claim. Chicago Studio and Cinespace are not similarly situated, and there was a rational basis for Steinberg’s conduct. Cinespace consistently reached out to Steinberg for marketing support; Chicago Studio rarely did and it was rational for Steinberg to promote the studios based on production needs. View "Chicago Studio Rental, Inc. v. Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged the Board of Optometry's denial of an application for a statement of licensure submitted by Rudick, a licensed optometrist (Business and Professions Code section 3041.2), Rudick is a 49% owner of Ridge, a medical corporation, and works at one of Ridge’s four locations. Ridge employs both ophthalmologists and optometrists at each location. The Board denied Rudick’s application, stating: “you list yourself as the principal employer at the location ... you state that you are 49% shareholder in the business. Per BPC 3077 you need to submit a Branch Office License application if you have a financial interest in that location.” The trial court denied the petition, finding that the Board properly determined Rudick must comply with the branch office licensing requirements for his practice at Ridge’s Magalia office since his principal place of practice was in Paradise. The court of appeal affirmed, upholding the Board’s decision that Rudick must obtain a branch office license for each Ridge location aside from his principal place of practice; for purposes of section 3077, “office” means any place where optometry is practiced notwithstanding the fact that ophthalmology is also practiced at the location, or that the practicing optometrist is merely a minority owner of the medical corporation where he is practicing. View "Rudick v. State Board of Optometry" on Justia Law

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A challenge to the timeliness of a partnership proceeding must be raised in the partnership proceeding itself and that failure to do so results in a forfeiture of the argument. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the tax court's dismissal of taxpayers' petition challenging adjustments to a Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment (FPAA) involving taxpayers' partnership. In an earlier appeal, the panel upheld the validity of the partnership proceeding and the adjustments made therein. The panel held that taxpayer's challenges in this case essentially amounted to a collateral attack on the partnership proceeding. In this case, the taxpayers had an opportunity to challenge the FPAA during the partnership proceeding, but elected not to do so. View "Bedrosian v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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The parties manufacture and sell equipment that removes water from industrial waste. Gethin founded Watermark's predecessor, “J-Parts,” after leaving his position at JWI. JWI sued Gethin and J-Parts for false designation of origin, trademark dilution, trademark infringement, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract, and conversion. The parties settled. A stipulated final judgment permanently enjoined Watermark and Gethin and “their principals, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, successors and assigns” from using JWI’s trademarks and from “using, disclosing, or disseminating” JWI’s proprietary information. Evoqua eventually acquired JWI’s business and trade secrets, technical and business information and data, inventions, experience and expertise, other than software and patents, and JWI’s rights and obligations under its contracts, its trademarks, and its interest in litigation. Evoqua discontinued the J-MATE® product line. Watermark announced that it was releasing a sludge dryer product. Evoqua planned to reintroduce J-MATE® and expressed concerns that Watermark was violating the consent judgment and improperly using Evoqua’s trademarks. Evoqua sued, asserting copyright, trademark, and false-advertising claims and seeking to enforce the 2003 consent judgment. The district court held that the consent judgment was not assignable, so Evoqua lacked standing to enforce it and that the sales agreement unambiguously did not transfer copyrights. A jury rejected Evoqua’s false-advertising claim but found Watermark liable for trademark infringement. The Sixth Circuit vacated in part. The consent judgment is assignable and the sales agreement is ambiguous regarding copyrights. View "Evoqua Water Technologies, LLC v. M.W. Watermark, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc. (the “Garden”) leased land from the City of Atlanta. The Garden wished to enforce a policy precluding the possession of firearms by visitors to, and guests of, the Garden, like Phillip Evans. Evans held a valid weapons carry license under Georgia law and asserted that he was authorized to carry a firearm at the garden under the authority of OCGA 16-11-127 (c). The Garden contended it could enforce its policy based on an exception to the general rule found in the same statutory paragraph. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether OCGA 16-11-127 (c) permitted a private organization that leased property owned by a municipality to prohibit the carrying of firearms on the leased premises. The Court of Appeals determined that it did and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Garden on the petition for declaratory and injunctive relief filed by GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc. The Georgia Supreme Court determined this case turned on whether the Garden was indeed private property. Because no lease was entered into the trial court record, judgment was reversed for further proceedings at the trial court. View "GeorgiaCarry.org, Inc. et al. v. Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellants Jeffrey Sheldon and Andras Konya, M.D., Ph.D., alleged in the Delaware Court of Chancery that several venture capital firms and certain directors of IDEV Technologies, Inc. (“IDEV”) violated their fiduciary duties by diluting the Appellants’ economic and voting interests in IDEV. Appellants argued their dilution claims were both derivative and direct under Gentile v. Rosette, 906 A.2d 91 (Del. 2006) because the venture capital firms constituted a “control group.” The Court of Chancery rejected that argument and held that Appellants’ dilution claims were solely derivative. Because Appellants did not make a demand on the IDEV board or plead demand futility, and because Appellants lost standing to pursue a derivative suit after Abbott Laboratories purchased IDEV and acquired Appellants’ shares, the court dismissed their complaint. On appeal, Appellants raised one issue: that, contrary to the Court of Chancery’s holding, they adequately pleaded that a control group existed, rendering their claims partially “direct” under Gentile. Therefore, according to Appellants, their complaint should not have been dismissed. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Chancery’s determination that Appellants failed to adequately allege that the venture capital firms functioned as a control group. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the complaint with prejudice. View "Sheldon, et al. v. Pinto Technology Ventures, L.P., et al." on Justia Law

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Dahyalal Patel filed an action seeking to enforce his ownership rights as a shareholder in Subway No. 43092, Inc. ("the corporation"), against shareholder Ashish Shah ("Shah"), Shah's father, Ramesh Shah ("Ramesh"); and the corporation (collectively,"the Shah defendants"). In 2007, Shah, the owner of eight Subway restaurants in and around Madison County, Alabama, prepared to open a ninth Subway restaurant in Huntsville ("the restaurant"). In July 2008, Shah formed the corporation for the purposes of owning and operating the restaurant. Shah owned 90 percent of the stock of the corporation and Ramesh owned 10 percent. In 2008, Patel met with Shah about Shah's plan to open the restaurant. At some point, Patel and Shah orally agreed that Patel would purchase a 25 percent ownership interest in the corporation. Because Shah estimated that start-up costs for the restaurant would be $240,000, Patel agreed to purchase a 25 percent interest in the corporation for $60,000, payable in monthly installments. After the restaurant opened in December 2008, Shah began making periodic distributions of profits to Patel. Patel eventually paid back the $60,000, and agreed to pay an additional $12,000 for an additional five percent interest. In September 2012, Patel sued the Shah defendants, alleging that Shah had misrepresented the start-up costs for the restaurant in calculating the price of Patel's 25 percent interest. Patel alleged that the actual start-up costs were $140,000 rather than $240,000, as Shah had represented. Accordingly, Patel alleged that he either overpaid for his interest or acquired more than a 50 percent interest in the corporation. Patel further alleged that the distributions of profits he received were not proportional to his interest, even assuming that his interest was 30 percent. In addition, he claimed that Shah had withheld Patel's share of franchise-sales commissions that the corporation received from its franchisor. The Shah defendants raised a number of defenses, among them, statute of frauds and statute of limitations. The trial court granted the Shaw defendants' motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing Patel's claims. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Shah defendants on Patel's tort claims, other than conversion, and on Patel's conversion claim insofar as Patel alleged conversion of profits, commissions, and his ownership interest in the corporation. The Court reversed the summary judgment on Patel's breach-of-contract and unjust-enrichment claims and on his conversion claim insofar as Patel alleged the conversion of corporate property. This case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Patel v. Shah" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery granted Defendants' motion to dismiss two counts arising from the dilution of Plaintiff's equity and voting interests under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(6), holding that the complaint failed to state a claim. Plaintiff owned common stock of NexBank Capital, Inc. Plaintiff filed this complaint alleging that NexBank's board of directors and their trusts comprised a control group with concomitant fiduciary obligations to the minority stockholders of NexBank. Plaintiff took issue with 2016 and 2017 stock offerings that were allegedly offered at a discounted price to participants and alleged that his equity and voting interests were diluted because of the stock offerings. Count I claimed that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties and controllers, and Count II claimed that NexBank board members named as defendants breached their fiduciary duties as directors. The Court of Chancery held that the complaint failed to state a claim under Gentile v. Rossette, 906 A.2d 91 (Del. 2006), as to either stock offering and thus dismissed the complaint. View "Daugherty v. Dondero" on Justia Law