Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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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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For the 100th Indianapolis 500 race in 2016, organizers engaged Karma, an event-planning company, to host a ticketed party. The party was a disappointment. Poor ticket sales prevented Karma from covering its expenses. Karma sued the racetrack for breach of contract, accusing it of failing to adequately promote the party. Karma sought $817,500 in damages, a figure apparently gleaned from conversations with Speedway officials who speculated that the party would generate $1 million in gross revenue “from ticket and table sales only.” The Speedway filed a counterclaim alleging that Karma failed to place the promised banner advertisement on Maxim’s website or provide marketing support on Maxim’s social-media channels. Karma is a licensee of Maxim’s, a men’s magazine. The district judge rejected Karma’s claim at summary judgment, ruling that the damages theory rested on speculation. A jury found Karma liable on the counterclaim, awarding $75,000 in damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Karma’s evidence of damages was speculative, so its claim failed under Indiana law. The jury could award objectively foreseeable damages; it didn’t need to hear testimony on the subjective expectations of Speedway officials before awarding damages. View "Karma International, LLC v. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC" on Justia Law

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The debtor obtained a commercial loan from Bank. The agreement dated March 9, 2015, granted Bank a security interest in substantially all of the debtor’s assets, described in 26 categories of collateral, such as accounts, cash, equipment, instruments, goods, inventory, and all proceeds of any assets. Bank filed a financing statement with the Illinois Secretary of State, to cover “[a]ll Collateral described in First Amended and Restated Security Agreement dated March 9, 2015.” Two years later, the debtor defaulted and filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Bank sought to recover $7.6 million on the loan and filed a declaration that its security interest was properly perfected and senior to the interests of all other claimants. The trustee countered that the security interest was not properly perfected because its financing statement did not independently describe the underlying collateral, but instead incorporated the list of assets by reference, and cited 11 U.S.C. 544(a), which empowers a trustee to avoid interests in the debtor’s property that are unperfected as of the petition date. The bankruptcy court ruled that ”[a] financing statement that fails to contain any description of collateral fails to give the particularized kind of notice” required by UCC Article 9. The trustee sold the assets for $1.9 million and holds the proceeds pending resolution of this dispute. The Seventh Circuit reversed, citing the plain and ordinary meaning of the Illinois UCC statute, and how courts typically treat financing statements. View "First Midwest Bank v. Reinbold" on Justia Law

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The Mathews purchased an RV from a dealer which came with a warranty from the manufacturer, REV, which limited both express and implied warranties to one year from the purchase date. The warranty stated that “[i]f the repair or replacement remedy fails to successfully cure a defect after [REV] received a reasonable opportunity to cure the defect[], your sole and exclusive remedy shall be limited to Warrantor paying you the costs of having an independent third party perform repair(s).” The Mathews were told about the warranty when they bought the RV, but they were not initially given a hard copy. The Mathews say that they encountered problems with the RV almost immediately and several times thereafter. Dealerships completed some repairs; REV completed others and issued an extended goodwill warranty. The Mathews did not report all of the problems but eventually asked REV to buy back the RV. REV declined and they filed suit, alleging breaches of express and implied warranties and violations of the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act and the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act. They claimed that REV had failed to fix numerous problems,15 U.S.C. 2310(d)(1). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of REV. Although the Mathews “bought a lemon,” they have not shown that REV failed to honor its warranties or that the warranty provisions were unconscionable, View "Mathews v. REV Recreation Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2005 Paramount leased a parcel of highway-adjacent property in Bellwood, Illinois, planning to erect a billboard. Paramount never applied for a local permit. When Bellwood enacted a ban on new billboard permits in 2009, Paramount lost the opportunity to build its sign. Paramount later sought to take advantage of an exception to the ban for village-owned property, offering to lease a different parcel of highway-adjacent property directly from Bellwood. Bellwood accepted an offer from Image, one of Paramount’s competitors. Paramount sued Bellwood and Image, alleging First Amendment, equal-protection, due-process, Sherman Act, and state-law violations. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Paramount lost its lease while the suit was pending, which mooted its claim for injunctive relief from the sign ban. The claim for damages was time-barred, except for an alleged equal-protection violation. That claim failed because Paramount was not similarly situated to Image; Paramount offered Bellwood $1,140,000 in increasing installments over 40 years while Image offered a lump sum of $800,000. Bellwood and Image are immune from Paramount’s antitrust claims. The court did not consider whether a market-participant exception to that immunity exists because Paramount failed to support its antitrust claims. View "Paramount Media Group, Inc. v. Village of Bellwood" on Justia Law

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Schaumburg’s 2016 ordinance requires commercial buildings to send fire‐alarm signals directly to the local 911 dispatch center, NWCDS, which has an exclusive arrangement with Tyco. To send signals to NWCDS, local buildings must use Tyco equipment. Schaumburg’s notice of the ordinance referred to connection through Tyco and stated that accounts would be charged $81 per month to rent Tyco’s radio transmitters and for the monitoring service. Tyco pays NWCDS an administrative fee of $23 per month for each account it connects to the NWCDS equipment. Tyco’s competitors filed suit charging violations of constitutional, antitrust, and state tort law. The district court dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the Contracts Clause claim against Schaumburg. The complaint alleges a potentially significant impairment, the early cancellation of the competitors’ contracts, and Schaumburg’s self‐interest, $300,000 it stands to gain. The court otherwise affirmed, noting that entities not alleged to have taken legislative action cannot be liable under the Contracts Clause. WIth respect to constitutional claims, the court noted the government’s important interest in fire safety. Rejecting antitrust claims, the court stated that the complaint did not allege a prohibited agreement, as opposed to an independent, legislative decision. View "Alarm Detection Systems, Inc. v. Village of Schaumburg" on Justia Law

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Under a 2014 agreement, MCFI, a non-profit organization that provides medical care for individuals with brain injuries, would operate a brain-injury center in MHC’s nursing facility. MHC would handle billing and collections for MCFI's services and remit the funds collected to MCFI after taking its cut. MHC instead redirected MCFI’s funds to pay its employees and other creditors. MCFI sued MHC and MHC’s principal, Nicholson. The district court entered summary judgment against MHC for breach of contract and against Nicholson for conversion and civil theft and awarded MCFI over $2 million in damages, interest, and costs against MHC and Nicholson, jointly and severally. It also awarded MCFI over $200,000 in attorney’s fees and costs against Nicholson alone. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. MCFI had an ownership interest in the BIRC Collections. At most MCFI’s acknowledgment of the security interests of MHC’s creditors only estops MCFI from contesting the interests of those creditors; it does not prevent MCFI from asserting its ownership of the property against MHC. The duty to refrain from converting or stealing the BIRC Collections was entirely independent of the contract. It arose from the common law and Wisconsin statutes. Nicholson was personally involved in the wrongful redirection of those funds through the actions of his agent. View "Milwaukee Center for Independence, Inc. v. Milwaukee Health Care LLC" on Justia Law

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The agreement gave Division the exclusive right to purchase aged and customer-returned merchandise from Finish and provided for an 18-month term “commencing on March 1, 2001” that could be extended by written agreement of the parties “prior to the expiration of the term or any extension thereof.” The agreement was twice amended. Despite the 2008 agreement’s express ending date of December 31, 2013, Finish continued to ship products to Division in 2014. Finish eventually stopped dealing with Division and began dealing with other parties. In 2015, Division wrote to Finish asserting its exclusive right under the agreement to purchase Finish’s surplus products. Finish asserted that the agreement was no longer in effect. The district court dismissed Division’s suit, concluding that the agreement did not provide for perpetual self-renewal and the 2008 Amendment did not provide for an automatic extension. Since the plain language was not ambiguous, the court refused to consider extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intent—the 2014 shipments. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The agreement is clear and unambiguous, Division’s extrinsic evidence cannot be considered. There was no automatic extension following the 2008 amendment extension; the agreement was no longer in force after December 2013 and Finish did not commit a breach when it began dealing with third parties in 2014. View "Division Six Sports, Inc. v. Finish Line, Inc." on Justia Law

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Seattle’s Duncan Place condominium complex was built in 2009, with Danze faucets in all 63 units. The faucets’ water hoses can corrode and crack in normal use. Several faucets failed, causing property damage and replacement costs. Danze’s “limited lifetime warranty” promises to replace defective parts. Danze refused to repair or replace the faucets. The Owners Association filed suit on behalf of itself, unit owners, and a proposed nationwide class, asserting claims under Washington law. The judge rejected all claims, holding that Washington’s independent-duty doctrine barred claims of negligence and strict product liability; the unjust-enrichment claim was premised on fraud but did not satisfy the FRCP 9(b) heightened pleading requirements. A Washington claim for breach of an express warranty requires that the plaintiff was aware of the warranty. Duncan Place was unable to make that allegation in good faith with respect to any unit owners. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The Washington Product Liability Act subsumes the negligence and strict-liability claims; the “independent duty doctrine” generally bars recovery in tort for direct and consequential economic losses stemming from the product’s failure (damages associated with the “injury” to the product itself) but does not bar recovery for damage to other property. Duncan Place alleged in general terms that the defective faucets caused damage to other condominium property, so the WPLA claim is not entirely blocked by the independent duty doctrine. View "Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2011 Caterpillar made serious inquiries about the possible acquisition of a Chinese mining company and its wholly‐owned subsidiary (Siwei). Caterpillar completed that acquisition in June 2012. Only after the closing did Caterpillar gain access to Siwei’s physical inventory and find that Siwei had overstated its profits and improperly recognized revenue. Caterpillar took a $580 million goodwill impairment charge just months after the acquisition. Plaintiffs, Caterpillar shareholders, filed a shareholder derivative suit alleging that several former Caterpillar officers breached their fiduciary duties by failing to conduct an adequate investigation of the Siwei acquisition, which caused Caterpillar’s loss. They made an unsuccessful demand that the Caterpillar Board bring the litigation. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure adequately to allege that the Board wrongfully refused to pursue the Plaintiffs’ claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Board’s decision not to litigate was protected by the “wide bounds of the business judgment rule.” The plaintiffs might come to a different conclusion about the strategic importance of the acquisition, the risk that litigation might cause disruption and excessive cost for Caterpillar, or the need to interview Siwei’s former CEO, but those types of business and investigative choices are exactly what the business judgment rule protects. View "Lowinger v. Oberhelman" on Justia Law