Justia Business Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Burzlaff v. Thoroughbred Motorsports Inc.
Burzlaff bought a “Stallion” motorized tricycle from Thoroughbred Motorsports in 2009 for $35,000. When Burzlaff reported the first problems to Thoroughbred, the company instructed him to take his vehicle to a Ford dealer for warranty repairs. Burzlaff did so repeatedly. After the vehicle had been out of service for repairs for 71 days during the first year, Burzlaff demanded, under the Wisconsin Lemon Law, that Thoroughbred replace the vehicle or refund his purchase price. Thoroughbred refused. Further efforts to repair the vehicle at the Thoroughbred factory in Texas failed to correct the defects. Burzlaff sued Thoroughbred under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. 2301, and the Wisconsin Lemon Law, Wis. Stat. 218.0171. The district court awarded double damages plus costs and attorney fees for a total judgment of $95,000 under the more generous provisions of the state law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the jury instructions on the Lemon Law claim, the sufficiency of the evidence on that claim, and the submission of the Magnuson-Moss claim to the jury. View "Burzlaff v. Thoroughbred Motorsports Inc." on Justia Law
Freed v. Weiss
Freed and Weiss were the sole managing members of a legal practice, CLG. Freed claims to have provided CLG’s operating capital through loans of $12 million. Under the partnership agreement between the two, Freed was entitled to repayment before CLG could make distributions to other members. According to Freed, shortly after he received partial repayment from CLG in 2011, Weiss began taking steps to terminate Freed’s control of CLG and to create a new limited liability company without him, by moving CLG funds held by Chase into other accounts, to which Freed lacked access. Freed demanded that Chase freeze CLG accounts. Freed contends that Chase employees informed Weiss, who then removed all funds from Chase. Freed sued Weiss in state court, alleging improprieties primarily regarding access to records and funds, breach of fiduciary duties and of the partnership agreement, and seeking a declaration of voluntary termination of CLG. Weiss counterclaimed, seeking to expel Freed from CLG. Freed sued Chase claiming that Chase facilitated Weiss’s unauthorized transfer, tortious interference with contractual rights, and aiding Weiss’s breaches of fiduciary duties. The suit was removed to federal court and Chase brought third-party claims for indemnity or contribution. Freed filed suit in federal court against Weiss, his father, and CLG, asking the court to force CLG to purchase Freed’s distributional interest. The district court found that abstention in the federal court cases was proper and stayed both pending the outcome of the state court proceedings. The Seventh Circuit agreed.View "Freed v. Weiss" on Justia Law
Fares Pawn, LLC v. IN Dep’t of Fin. Insts.
Indiana pawnbrokers must obtain license from the state’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI). Saalwaechter, owns Fares Pawn in Evansville, Indiana. He applied for a license in 2009, but DFI denied his application, citing concerns about previous operations on the property and about his store manager’s criminal history. The property has been used as a pawnshop for about 20 years, but different businesses with overlapping ownership. Saalwaechter received a license after he signed an agreement to comply with certain conditions, in particular not employing the manager. Saalwaechter sued DFI, alleging violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Saalwaechter did not contend that DFI treated him unfavorably on account of some identifiable characteristic, such as age, sex, or race, but that the state had singled him out for disparate treatment without a rational basis. The district court granted DFI summary judgment on the “class of one” claim, finding that no reasonable jury could conclude that DFI treated Saalwaechter differently from similarly situated applicants without a rational reason. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Fares Pawn, LLC v. IN Dep't of Fin. Insts." on Justia Law
Thermal Design, Inc. v. Am. Soc’y of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Eng’rs, Inc.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is composed of industry members, academicians, design professionals, and government officials. Its standards provide guidelines for refrigeration processes and design and maintenance of energy efficient buildings. Thermal manufactures liner insulation systems for nonresidential metal buildings. Thermal’s liner systems compete with “over-the-purlin systems,” which comprise about 90% of the market for metal building roof insulation systems. Since 1999, ASHRAE has published Standard 90.1, which rates the energy efficiency of insulation assemblies and has considerable influence in the commercial building industry. In 2011, the Department of Energy determined that Standard 90.1 would be the national commercial building reference standard; within two years every state had to certify that it had adopted a commercial building code that is at least as stringent as Standard 90.1. Until 2010, Standard 90.1 treated non-laminated metal building insulation assemblies, like Thermal’s liner systems, differently from other insulation assemblies. Owners had to obtain special permission to install liner systems. Thermal alleged that representatives of the North American Insulation Manufacturer’s Association and the Metal Building Manufacturers Association, both of which have voting members on ASHRAE’s Envelope Subcommittee, procured this result by providing inaccurate data. ASHRAE declined to accept results of tests commissioned by Thermal. Thermal sued, alleging unfair competition, violation of Wisconsin’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act, antitrust violations, and violation of the Lanham Act. The court rejected all of the claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Thermal Design, Inc. v. Am. Soc'y of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Eng'rs, Inc." on Justia Law
Arnold v. KJD Real Estate, LLC
Arnold, a former officer of two corporate defendants, held significant stock in each. In 1999, Arnold sued both in Illinois state court, claiming shareholder oppression. In 2006, the parties allegedly agreed to settle, but never executed settlement documents. The defendants have not paid any of the $207,500 purportedly required. The court dismissed without deciding whether the case had been settled. A month later, Arnold agreed to sell his stock to KJD for $290,000. KJD advanced $100,000; Arnold represented that he had good title. KJD notified the defendants that it had purchased the stock and wished to inspect the corporate books. They did not respond, but moved to vacate the dismissal, alleging that, under the alleged settlement, Arnold had transferred his stock to the corporations. They also filed suit before a different judge, resulting in a default judgment ordering Arnold to execute settlement papers and comply with the agreement. The Appellate Court affirmed. KJD was never joined as a party. The court stayed proceedings in the original action. Arnold filed a FRCP Rule 22 interpleader action, naming the corporations and KJD, stating that he made no claim to continued ownership and was willing to transfer the stock to whichever defendant the court determined to have superior right. Invoking the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the district court dismissed, but ordered Arnold to return the $100,000 advance payment. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded, reasoning that the interpleader action does not attack the state court judgment itself, so further proceedings are necessary.View "Arnold v. KJD Real Estate, LLC" on Justia Law
Halperin v. Halperin
Brothers Patrick and Thomas each owned one‐third of the stock of Commercial Light, a Chicago electrical contractor. Between 1982 and the 2008 sale of the company, Thomas was the CEO, board chairman, and president. The other officers were the company’s treasurer, and its executive vice‐president. The board of directors had only two members: Thomas and a lawyer. Patrick took no part in the company’s management. Patrick sued, claiming that when Morris became executive vice‐president in 1992, he, with Thomas’s approval, started jacking up the salaries and bonuses paid so that the compensation of the three officers soared, totaling $22 million between 1993 and 2000, and that the lawyer on the board rubber‐stamped Thomas’s compensation decisions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a jury verdict finding breach of fiduciary duty. The jury did not have to find that the compensation was excessive in order to find a breach of fiduciary duty by concealment. Illinois allows as a remedy for breach of fiduciary duty a forfeiture of all the fiduciary’s earnings during the period of breach. The court speculated on why the highly-educated Patrick did not discover the concealment until several years after the sale, but noted that the appeal only concerned jury instructions. View "Halperin v. Halperin" on Justia Law
Domanus v. Lewicki
KBP is a Polish entity, formed to develop a business park near Krakow. Plaintiffs are KBP shareholders and defendants are either current or former shareholders. The plaintiffs alleged a fraudulent scheme to loot the company by payments for services never performed and sought relief under RICO, 18 U.S.C. 1962(a)–(d), with supplemental state claims for fraud, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with prospective business advantage, civil conspiracy, violation of the Illinois Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, and for an accounting. The defendants allegedly invested some of their proceeds in a Chicago subdivision. Polish authorities charged the defendants for crimes related to KBP. In the RICO civil suit, the defendants’ abuse of the discovery process resulted in several sanctions rulings; when the plaintiffs objected to the magistrate’s relatively lenient decisions, the district judge found the sanctions too light and imposed more onerous ones, including contempt and an order barring the defendants from using certain evidence, and ultimately a $413,000,000 default judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.View "Domanus v. Lewicki" on Justia Law
Inland Mortg. Capital Corp v. Chivas Retail Partners, LLC
IMCC loaned Harbins $60 million to buy Georgia land to construct a shopping center. In addition to a mortgage, IMCC obtained a guaranty from Chivas, providing that if IMCC “forecloses … the amount of the debt may be reduced only by the price for which that collateral is sold at the foreclosure sale, even if the collateral is worth more than the sale price.” Harbins defaulted; IMCC foreclosed in a nonjudicial proceeding, involving a public auction conducted by the sheriff after public notice. IMCC successfully bid $7 million and filed a petition to confirm the auction. Unless such a petition is granted, a mortgagee who obtains property in a nonjudicial foreclosure cannot obtain a deficiency judgment if the property is worth less than the mortgage balance owed. A Georgia court denied confirmation. Chivas refused to honor the guaranty. A district court in Chicago awarded IMCC $17 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the Georgia statute “is odd by modern standards,” but does not prevent a suit against a guarantor. The agreement guaranteed IMCC the difference between what it paid for the land and the unpaid balance of the loan, even if the land is worth more than what IMCC paid for it. The agreement is lawful under Georgia and Illinois law. View "Inland Mortg. Capital Corp v. Chivas Retail Partners, LLC" on Justia Law
Sullivan v. Running Waters Irrigation, Inc.
Alpine was an irrigation business owned by Robert from 1961 until it closed in 2009. Alpine was in arrears on pension fund payments to the Union. After a Joint Arbitration Board awarded it $56,269.97, the Union sought to compel the award under the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, and the Employee Retirement Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(e)(1). During a deposition, Robert’s son, Jeffery, admitted his sole ownership of RWI and JV, which were established upon Alpine’s closing. Like Alpine, RWI services and installs lawn irrigation systems. JV’s sole business is leasing to RWI equipment that it purchased from Alpine. RWI operates out of Jeffery’s home, Alpine’s prior business address; all but one of RWI’s employees worked for Alpine. Almost all of RWI’s customers are former Alpine customers. The magistrate first denied the Union’s motion to impose judgment against RWI and JV as successors, but determined that the companies were successors under ERISA and that FRCP 25(c) provided an appropriate procedure and granted a motion to substitute. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the court properly applied the multifactor ERISA successorship test to find that an “interest” had been transferred within the meaning of FRCP 25(c) and properly resolved the motion without an evidentiary hearing. View "Sullivan v. Running Waters Irrigation, Inc." on Justia Law
Vojdani v. Pharmasan Labs, Inc.
Immunosciences developed and sold medical tests and testing materials. In 2007, NeuroSciences wanted to expand its offerings. Immunosciences and NeuroScience decided to collaborate, but the relationship fell apart within two years. Immunosciences sued. In the first trial, a jury rejected a claim that NeuroScience did not pay what it had contracted to pay for medical testing materials, but the district judge ordered a new trial, concluding that the verdict was undermined by flawed special verdict questions. The jury in the second trial found for Immunosciences but awarded much less money than it was seeking. NeuroScience appealed, claiming that the court’s grant of a new trial was an abuse of discretion. Immunosciences argued that the court abused its discretion by allowing NeuroScience to argue in the new trial that the parties had orally modified their written contract and that NeuroScience breached a separate confidentiality agreement by continuing to use Immunosciences’ testing methods after the parties ended their business relationship. The jury in the first trial had awarded nearly $1.2 million on that claim, but the district court granted judgment as a matter of law for NeuroScience, explaining that Immunosciences had relied on an impermissible damages theory. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Vojdani v. Pharmasan Labs, Inc." on Justia Law