Justia Business Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Kinzel v. Bank of America
In 2008, Kinzel, then CEO of Cedar Fair, borrowed $8,000,000 from Merrill Lynch to finance his exercise of the company’s stock options and to pay estimated taxes that would be due immediately upon exercise. Kinzel pledged the shares that he would acquire as collateral and entered into an agreement that allowed Merrill Lynch, “in its sole discretion and without prior notice,” to “liquidate” the collateral upon any of twelve events, including “if the value of the . . . collateral is in the sole judgment of [Merrill Lynch] insufficient.” The market value of the company dropped from the exercise price of $23.19 per share in April 2008 to $6.99 per share in March 2009. Having set a $7.00-per-share “trigger” to liquidate, Merrill Lynch began selling Kinzel’s shares, without advance notice to Kinzel and without first making demand upon Kinzel for repayment. Kinzel appealed the district court’s denial of leave to file an amended complaint to reassert a breach-of-contract claim that had been dismissed, and final judgment in favor of Merrill Lynch on a breach-of-good-faith claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that Kinzel could not state a claim for breach of contract and that Merrill Lynch exercised its discretion within the “contemplated range” of “judgment based upon sincerity, honesty, fair dealing and good faith.” View "Kinzel v. Bank of America" on Justia Law
Babcock & Wilcox Co. v. Cormetech, Inc.
In 2005, B&W entered into a contract to design and construct a Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) system to control emissions at KCP&L’s coal-burning Kansas power station. B&W purchased catalyst modules for the SCR from Cormetech, which guaranteed that the catalyst would perform under specified conditions for 24,000 operating hours before needing replacement. KCP&L began operating the SCR in April 2007. A June 2007 performance test revealed that the rate of “ammonia slip” was higher than expected, but within guaranteed limits. B&W advised Cormetech of the issue. Cormetech began testing. A September 2008 letter from KCP&L advised that it was B&W’s obligation to “generate a corrective action plan.” After KCP&L determined in 2008 that the catalyst was at the end of its useful life, it contracted directly with Cormetech for a replacement, which also failed before the end of its expected life. KCP&L’s claim against B&W resulted in a $3.5 million meditation settlement. B&W sued Cormetech; the case was dismissed without prejudice pursuant to the parties’ tolling agreement while B&W pursued mediation with KCP&L. After those efforts resulted in the settlement, B&W reinstituted the action within the agreed period. Following discovery the district court granted Cormetech summary judgment, finding a breach-of-warranty claim time-barred and that an indemnification claim failed for lack of evidence that B&W’s losses resulted from a defect in goods or services purchased from Cormetech. The Sixth Circuit vacated, finding that the court erred by failing to view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. View "Babcock & Wilcox Co. v. Cormetech, Inc." on Justia Law
Rudd Equip. Co., Inc. v. John Deere Constr. & Forestry Co.
In 2002, Deere became the exclusive North American wholesale supplier of Hitachi products. In 2014, Deere notified Rudd, a long-time authorized dealer of Hitachi equipment, of its intent to terminate its dealer agreements and initiated arbitration proceedings, as required by the agreement. Although Rudd agreed that arbitration was the proper forum, it sought injunctive relief to maintain the status quo during arbitration and moved to seal the case, stating that “the very fact of this lawsuit” could cause loss of customers, layoffs (or preemptive departure) of employees, and diminution of the value of Rudd’s financial investment. Two weeks later, the district court entered Rudd's proposed order, before Deere submitted a response. During an on-the-record telephonic status conference, the court asked the parties whether the case should remain under seal; Rudd’s counsel replied that it should, while Deere’s counsel was silent. The matter proceeded to an Agreed Order. The arbitration panel requested a copy of that Order, believing that it would obviate the need for an expedited hearing. Deere’s counsel forwarded the Order without consulting Rudd. Rudd moved for contempt . Deere moved to vacate the sealing order. The Sixth Circuit affirmed an order unsealing the case. Rudd cannot show any countervailing privacy interest sufficient to outweigh the strong presumption in favor of public access to federal court records View "Rudd Equip. Co., Inc. v. John Deere Constr. & Forestry Co." on Justia Law
Energy Conversion Devices Liquidation Trust v. Trina Solar Ltd.
The defendant companies, based in China, produce conventional solar energy panels. Energy Conversion and other American manufacturers produce the newer thin-film panels. The Chinese producers sought greater market shares. They agreed to export more products to the U.S. and to sell them below cost. Several entities supported their endeavor. Suppliers provided discounts, a trade association facilitated cooperation, and the Chinese government provided below-cost financing. From 2008-2011, the average selling prices of their panels fell over 60%. American manufacturers consulted the Department of Commerce, which found that the Chinese firms had harmed American industry through illegal dumping and assessed substantial tariffs. The American manufacturers continued to suffer; more than 20 , including Energy Conversion, filed for bankruptcy or closed. Energy Conversion sued under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and Michigan law, seeking $3 billion in treble damages, claiming that the Chinese companies had unlawfully conspired “to sell Chinese manufactured solar panels at unreasonably low or below cost prices . . . to destroy an American industry.” Because this allegation did not state that the Chinese companies could or would recoup their losses by charging monopoly prices after driving competitors from the field, the court dismissed the claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Without such an allegation or any willingness to prove a reasonable prospect of recoupment, the court correctly rejected the claim. View "Energy Conversion Devices Liquidation Trust v. Trina Solar Ltd." on Justia Law
Braun v. Ultimate Jetcharters, LLC
In 2011 UJC private jet charter services hired Plaintiff as a co-pilot. After altercations between Plaintiff, a woman, and male pilots, which Plaintiff perceived to constitute sexual harassment, Plaintiff wrote an email to UJC management. About three weeks later, Plaintiff’s employment was terminated. Plaintiff sued, alleging retaliation. Defendants’ answer stated that UJC had converted from a corporation to an LLC. Plaintiff did not amend her complaint. Defendants’ subsequent motions failed did not raise the issue of UJC’s identity. UJC’s CEO testified that he had received reports that Plaintiff had used her cell phone below 10,000 feet; that once Plaintiff became intoxicated and danced inappropriately at a bar while in Atlantic City for work; that Plaintiff had once dangerously performed a turning maneuver; and that Plaintiff had a habit of unnecessarily executing “max performance” climbs. There was testimony that UJC’s male pilots often engaged the same behavior. The jury awarded her $70,250.00 in compensatory and $100,000.00 in punitive damages. When Plaintiff attempted to collect on her judgment, she was told that the corporation was out of business without assets, but was offered a settlement of $125,000.00. The court entered a new judgment listing the LLC as the defendant, noting that UJC’s filings and witnesses substantially added to confusion regarding UJC’s corporate form and that the LLC defended the lawsuit as though it were the real party in interest. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating it was unlikely that UJC would have offered a generous settlement had it genuinely believed itself to be a victim of circumstance, or that it would be deprived of due process by an amendment to the judgment; the response indicated a litigation strategy based on “roll[ing] the dice at trial and then hid[ing] behind a change in corporate structure when it comes time to collect.” View "Braun v. Ultimate Jetcharters, LLC" on Justia Law
Tri County Wholesale Distrib., Inc. v. Labatt USA Operating Co.
Under Ohio Rev. Code 1333.85, suppliers manufacture or import alcoholic beverages and must sell their products to state-licensed distributors, who sell to retailers; supplier-distributor franchise agreements are protected from termination without just cause, except when a successor manufacturer acquires another manufacturer, the successor may terminate the franchise by repurchasing the distributor’s inventory and compensating for the diminished value of the distributor’s business that is directly related to the sale of the product terminated. NAB owned Labatt through nested holding companies. NAB's owners sold their interests to CCR. Months later, Ohio distributors of the Labatt brands received letters terminating their franchises, citing the section 1333.85(D) exception. In the distributors' suit, the court granted CCR summary judgment on a Takings Clause claim and a claim regarding the scope of section 1333.85(D), then determined the diminution of the values of the distributors. The Sixth Circuit affirmed rejection of the constitutional claims. At common law, businesses may enter into contracts that allow for termination and contracting parties have a right to breach a contract that is no longer advantageous, in an “efficient breach.” That common-law norm is abrogated by section 1333.85, with an exception. The state created and is free to take away that protection from termination. The court remanded the calculation of damages with instructions to deduct the distributors' projected profits for the time until the date when the franchise agreements are finally terminated View "Tri County Wholesale Distrib., Inc. v. Labatt USA Operating Co." on Justia Law
Cranpark, Inc. v. Rogers Group, Inc.
When the main Youngstown-area crushed-stone supplier discontinued production, RGI, a Sandusky quarry, approached Hardrives, Sabatine's asphalt paving company, to discuss jointly establishing a large RGI distribution center and Hardrives production plant. In 1998, RGI’s representatives and Sabatine produced a draft agreement, with contingencies, such as the minimum amount of stone Hardrives was to buy, low-cost railroad transportation, and government incentives; it stated that it was subject to RGI senior management approval. Sabatine was unable to convince Norfolk Railroad to establish access and enlisted Congressman Traficant’s help.Unbeknownst to RGI, Sabatine paid Traficant a $2,400 bribe and was later indicted. Ultimately, the parties arrived at an acceptable rail rate and selected a Youngstown site. Hardrives began bidding on larger projects and purchasing new equipment. All the agreed contingencies were fulfilled, except RGI had arguably not given explicit senior management approval. Sabatine called RGI about ordering a $1.5 million asphalt plant for the site. According to Sabatine, RGI gave him the go ahead. Sabatine purchased the plant. Two months later RGI told Hardrives that it would no longer participate in the joint venture. Hardrives began losing money, and by 2001, became Cranmark and sold to McCourt. In 2004, Cranpark sued, alleging breach of contract and promissory estoppel. In 2010, the court granted RGI summary judgment, based on the limitations period, and holding RGI’s representations were not unambiguous promises. On remand, RGI argued that Cranpark was not the “proper party” because it had sold everything, including the right to bring the cause of action, to McCourt. The court denied the motion. A jury awarded $15.6 million, but the court then held that Cranmark lacked standing. The Sixth Circuit reversed, stating that the court failed to timely call the proof-of-standing issue to counsel’s attention, once RGI finally squarely presented the issue. View "Cranpark, Inc. v. Rogers Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Fakhouri v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc.
Fakhouri, a resident of Michigan who uses a wheelchair, traveled to Tennessee for a vacation in summer, 2012. She visited Ober Gatlinburg, a ski resort that also has a year-round amusement park, restaurant, lounge, and shopping center alongside the ski paths and mountain trails. To bring visitors to and from the ski area and associated attractions, Ober Gatlinburg operates a tramway, which Fakhouri rode without incident up the mountain when she arrived at the site. When she tried to enter the tram for her return trip, her wheelchair caught on the tram, breaking one of the wheels and causing her leg to buckle underneath the chair. She sought medical treatment for injuries to her leg and neck, and she continues to experience swelling, weakness, poor blood flow, and discoloration in the affected leg. The district court rejected her negligence suit on summary judgment, relying on a Tennessee statute that precludes liability for ski resort operators under certain conditions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Fakhouri’s lawsuit was precluded because she was a “skier or passenger,” Ober Gatlinburg is a “ski area operator,” and her injuries “aris[e] out of” her “use of any passenger tramways associated with Alpine or downhill skiing.” View "Fakhouri v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc." on Justia Law
Grubbs v. Sheakley Group, Inc.
Plaintiff and her companies, Tri-Serve and Capital Concepts, brought a claim for improper use of trade name and false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, against Sheakley Entity Defendants on the basis of e-mails and mailings Angelia Strunk-Zwick, a manager for plaintiffs and a consultant for Defendant Sheakley HR Solutions, sent to Tri-Serve clients. The court concluded that plaintiffs have stated a claim for improper use of trade name and false designation of origin for which the Sheakley Entity Defendants may be held vicariously liable. Taken together, the representations at issue could not only sow confusion but also strongly imply affiliation - and affiliation not endorsed by plaintiffs. Because the Sheakley Entity Defendants may be held vicariously liable for Strunk-Zwick’s e-mail, plaintiffs have stated a claim for false advertising against Strunk-Zwick and the Sheakley Entity Defendants. Plaintiffs further allege that Strunk-Zwick and all Sheakley Defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962, for failure to state a claim. The court concluded that plaintiffs’ RICO conspiracy claim fails because plaintiffs failed to allege a substantive RICO violation in the first place. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Lanham Act claims for failure to state a claim; affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' RICO claims; and remanded for further proceedings where the district court may, in its discretion, reexamine whether to reinstate any of plaintiffs' state law claims. View "Grubbs v. Sheakley Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Broad St. Energy Co. v. Endeavor Ohio, LLC
For some time, Broad Street Energy has owned many Ohio oil-and-gas leases. The market has changed to use of shale-drilling (fracking) to extract oil and gas from shale formations deeper than the formations from which Broad Street has extracted oil. Fracking requires leases of at least 640 acres, as opposed to the 20-to-40-acre leases that Broad Street required for conventional wells. Endeavor agreed to pay $35 million for many of Broad Street’s leases, plus wells, pipelines, and related property. Endeavor put $3.5 million in escrow. Broad Street delivered a list of assets and title limitations. Before closing, Endeavor conducted due diligence and told Broad Street that it found title defects affecting 40% of the leases and reducing the value of the assets by 55%. Endeavor did not seek more information or invoke the agreement’s dispute-resolution process, but terminated on the ground that the title defects reduced value by at least 30%. Broad Street responded several times, disputing those statements and insisting on at least implementing dispute-resolution procedures With no response, it sued. A jury awarded Broad Street the $3.5 million escrow, plus interest. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the relative sophistication of the parties and that the contract did not permit Endeavor to terminate unilaterally based on its own assessment of title defects and their value. View "Broad St. Energy Co. v. Endeavor Ohio, LLC" on Justia Law