Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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Plaintiff’s libel per se claim was based on a Google review, written by the manager of plaintiff’s business competitor, that subsequently was removed from the internet without a trace. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to defendants. The issues this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court were: (1) whether plaintiff could reach a jury on his libel claim when the text was no longer available; (2) whether the First Amendment’s public comment defense was available in these circumstances and, relatedly, whether a defendant speaker’s identity or motive was part of the court’s inquiry on the defense’s availability; and (3) whether Oregon should require a plaintiff claiming defamation to prove that the defendant acted with a heightened culpable mental state, “actual malice,” in all cases when the speech was on a “matter of public concern” protected under the First Amendment, abolishing the distinction that requires such proof only when the defendant is a member of the media. The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court had erred because plaintiff’s evidence of the allegedly defamatory statements sufficed to create a question of fact for trial on his claim and the lack of the review’s printed text did not affect the analysis of defendants’ First Amendment defense. The Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court's conclusion that the lack of a copy of the review was not fatal to plaintiff’s libel claim and that two of the three allegedly defamatory statements in the review were actionable. The Court thus affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals in part and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Lowell v. Wright" on Justia Law

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Rami Khalaf (“taxpayer”) was in the business of buying products for customers in the United Arab Emirates, primarily all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). He sought to claim certain business deductions on his 2013 income tax return. As relevant here, those included travel expenses that taxpayer had incurred on trips to the Emirates, and the cost of a dune buggy that taxpayer had purchased for use as a demonstration model. The Department of Revenue rejected those deductions. The Tax Court agreed with the department on those points, holding that the travel expenses were not deductible, because they were not sufficiently documented, and that the dune buggy was not deductible because it counted as inventory. Taxpayer appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the Tax Court's judgment. View "Khalaf v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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In a shareholder derivative action, two issues were presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review: (1) whether the breach of fiduciary duty claims brought by shareholders-plaintiffs Joseph LaChapelle and James Field on behalf of Deep Photonics Corporation (DPC) against DPC directors Dong Kwan Kim, Roy Knoth, and Bruce Juhola (defendants) were properly tried to a jury, rather than to the court; and (2) whether the trial court erred in denying defendants’ motion, made during trial, to amend their answer to assert an affirmative defense against one of the claims in the complaint based on an “exculpation” provision in DPC’s certificate of incorporation. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the case was properly tried to the jury and that the trial court did not err in denying defendants’ motion to assert the exculpation defense. Therefore the Court of Appeals and the limited judgment of the trial court were affirmed. View "Deep Photonics Corp. v. LaChapelle" on Justia Law

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In 2017, the Oregon legislature enacted a law that imposed a tax imposed on each vehicle dealer "for the privilege of engaging in the business of selling taxable motor vehicles at retail in this state.” The issue in this case was whether that tax was subject to Article IX, section 3a, of the Oregon Constitution. As relevant here, Article IX, section 3a, provided that taxes “on the ownership, operation or use of motor vehicles” “shall be used exclusively for the construction, reconstruction, improvement, repair, maintenance, operation and use of public highways, roads, streets and roadside rest areas in this state.” Petitioners AAA Oregon/Idaho Auto Source, LLC (Auto Source), AAA Oregon/Idaho, and Oregon Trucking Associations, Inc. argued the Section 90 tax fell within paragraph (1)(b) because it was a tax “on the owner- ship *** of motor vehicles.” Specifically, petitioners contended that taxes “on the ownership *** of motor vehicles” included taxes levied on the exercise of any of the rights of ownership, including the rights to sell and use. Petitioners posited that the voters would have understood “the concept of ownership” to include “multiple segregable rights or incidents, principal among which were the rights to sell and to use,” and, therefore, it is likely that the voters would have understood taxes levied “on the ownership *** of motor vehicles” to include taxes levied on the sale or use of motor vehicles. The Oregon Supreme Court disagreed with petitioners' contention: the Section 90 and Section 91 taxes worked together, so that the Section 91 privilege tax could be imposed on in-state vehicle dealers without placing them at a competitive disadvantage to out-of-state vehicle dealers, which supported the conclusion that the Section 90 tax was a business privilege tax. Therefore, the Court held the Section 90 tax was not a tax “on the ownership, operation or use of motor vehicles,” as that phrase is used in Article IX, section 3a. View "AAA Oregon/Idaho Auto Source v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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This mandamus proceeding arose from a dispute about a contract’s forum-selection clause. Trinity Bank loaned money to Apex, a drilling company. Michael Lachner, a part owner of Apex and the relator in this case, signed a personal guaranty of the loan. Apex defaulted on the loan, and Lachner defaulted on the guaranty. Trinity filed an action asserting separate breach of contract claims against Apex (on the loan) and Lachner (on the guaranty). Apex made no appearance, and a default judgment was entered against it. Lachner filed a motion to dismiss the action against him under ORCP 21 A(1), because the action was not filed in San Francisco as required by the forum-selection clause. Neither party disputed the meaning of the forum-selection clause, only whether it should be enforced. The trial court denied the motion, without making any findings or conclusions of law, stating that it “ha[d] discretion in [the] matter.” After review of the clause at issue, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded the clause should be enforced. The Court found none of the circumstances identified in Roberts v. TriQuint Semiconductor, Inc., 364 P3d 328 (2015) (as grounds for invalidating a contractual forum-selection clause) were present here. “Trinity’s objections amount to little more than dissatisfaction with the forum selection clause. The trial court’s factual findings indicate that Oregon might be a marginally more convenient place than California to litigate the case, but that is not the applicable legal standard. . . . As counsel for Trinity conceded at oral argument, it is not unfair or unreasonable to litigate the case in California. For that reason, the trial court did not have discretion to deny Lachner’s ORCP 21A (1) motion to dismiss based on the forum-selection clause: The law required the court to dismiss the action. It was legal error not to do so.” A peremptory writ of mandamus issued. View "Trinity v. Apex Directional Drilling LLC" on Justia Law

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The charging order at issue here was issued over limited partnerships’ and limited liability company’s objections that ancillary provisions included in the charging order, which required them to refrain from certain kinds of transactions and provide extensive financial information to the judgment creditor, were not authorized under the controlling statutes. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that some, but not all, of the ancillary provisions were authorized. The Oregon Supreme Court held a trial court has either general or specific statutory authority to include, in a charging order, ancillary provisions that it finds necessary to allow a judgment creditor access to a debtor-partner’s distributional interest in a company, as long as those provisions do not unduly interfere with the company’s management. Furthermore, the Court held that in this case, the record did not establish that that standard was met and, therefore, that the trial court erred in imposing the challenged ancillary provisions. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and vacated the circuit court order, and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Law v. Zemp" on Justia Law

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This case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review the question of when, if ever, the filing of a third-party complaint constitutes the “filing of a proceeding under subsection (1)” of ORS 60.952(6), such that the shareholder of a closely-held corporation who filed the proceeding could be bought out by the corporation or another shareholder. The corporation here, Graydog Internet, Inc., had only two shareholders: Douglas Westervelt, the company’s president and majority shareholder, and David Giller, an employee and minority shareholder. Graydog initiated the underlying case, at Westervelt’s direction, when it filed a declaratory judgment action against Giller raising an issue regarding his employment. As part of his response, Giller filed a third-party complaint against Westervelt. Graydog then filed an election to purchase Giller’s shares under ORS 60.952(6). Giller objected, arguing that filing a third-party complaint did not constitute the “filing of a proceeding” as that term is used in ORS 60.952(6) and that the claims in the third-party complaint were not “under [ORS 60.952(1)].” For those reasons, Giller asserted, Graydog could not elect to purchase his shares. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed that ORS 60.952(6) did not apply to Giller’s third-party complaint, and therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals which held to the contrary. View "Graydog Internet, Inc. v. Giller" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sustained injuries while working for Union Pacific Railroad Company “as a spiker machine operator near Minidoka, Idaho.” Union Pacific’s decision to reduce “the spiker machine’s customary three-[person] crew to a two-[person] crew” placed greater physical demands on plaintiff, causing or contributing to the injuries he suffered. As a result of Union Pacific’s alleged negligent maintenance of the spiker machine and its decision to reduce the number of persons operating that machine, plaintiff suffered economic and noneconomic damages totaling approximately $615,000. The question this case presented was whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permitted Oregon to exercise general jurisdiction over an interstate railroad for claims unrelated to the railroad’s activities in Oregon. The trial court ruled that it could exercise general jurisdiction over the railroad and denied the railroad’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence action for lack of personal jurisdiction. After the railroad petitioned for a writ of mandamus, the Supreme Court issued an alternative writ to the trial court, which adhered to its initial ruling. After review, the Supreme Court held that due process did not permit Oregon courts to exercise general jurisdiction over the railroad. View "Barrett v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was working for BNSF Railway Company in Pasco, Washington, where she was repairing a locomotive engine. While she was reaching up to remove an engine part, the “portable stair supplied by [BNSF] rolled or kicked out from under [p]laintiff,” causing her to sustain substantial injuries. The question that this case presented was whether, by appointing a registered agent in Oregon, defendant (a foreign corporation) impliedly consented to have Oregon courts adjudicate any and all claims against it regardless of whether those claims have any connection to defendant’s activities in the state. Defendant moved to dismiss this action because the trial court lacked general jurisdiction over it. When the court denied the motion, defendant petitioned for an alternative writ of mandamus. The Oregon Supreme Court issued the writ, and held as a matter of state law, that the legislature did not intend that appointing a registered agent pursuant to ORS 60.731(1) would constitute consent to the jurisdiction of the Oregon courts. View "Figueroa v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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In June 2002, defendant Ron Miller entered into an open account agreement with plaintiff Union Lumber Company for the purchase of building supply materials. In July 2010, plaintiff filed an action for breach of contract and unjust enrichment against Ron Miller and his spouse Linda Miller, seeking $17,865 as the unpaid balance on the account. The complaint alleged that defendants' son, Ean Miller, had purchased building materials from plaintiff, charging those materials to the Miller account with his father's authority. The complaint further alleged that the materials that Ean purchased were delivered to properties that defendants owned and were used to improve those properties and that, for several years, defendants had paid the charges that Ean had made on the account. The question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the trial court erred in denying defendants' motion under ORCP 71 B(1) to set aside a general judgment entered against them on grounds of excusable neglect and mistake. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling, concluding that the judgment was entered as a result of mistakes made by plaintiff and a court-appointed arbitrator with respect to the service of case-related documents on defendants. Because the Supreme Court concluded that defendants were not entitled to relief from the judgment on the grounds asserted, it reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court's order denying defendants' motion to set aside the judgment. View "Union Lumber Co. v. Miller" on Justia Law