Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Stergiadis, Dimas, and Theo formed 1600 South LLC, executed an operating agreement, purchased land on which to build a fruit market, and began construction. The 2008 recession stopped construction and eventually led to the LLC’s 2009 dissolution. The partners disagreed about whether they impliedly agreed to equalize their capital contributions. The operating agreement provided that the three each held a one-third membership interest in the LLC; each member agreed to make an initial capital contribution on the date of execution but the amount was left blank. In 2008 Stergiadis sued Dimas in state court seeking to equalize the capital contributions. Dimas filed for bankruptcy, triggering the automatic stay. Dimas ultimately filed seven such petitions and received a discharge in 2016. The U.S. Trustee moved to reopen the bankruptcy to recover the value of an undisclosed property. The bankruptcy court agreed. Stergiadis filed a proof of claim in Dimas’s reopened bankruptcy seeking the same amount he was seeking in state court. The partners disputed the amounts of their respective contributions.The bankruptcy court allowed Stergiadis’s claim, awarding $618,974, finding that the members had an implied equalization agreement. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the LLC’s operating agreement precluded an implied equalization contract. The bankruptcy court properly relied on extrinsic evidence in finding such a contract. View "Dimas v. Stergiadis" on Justia Law

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Healthcare revenue cycle management contractors manage billing and behind-the-scenes aspects of patient care, from pre-registering patients to reviewing and approving documentation upon release. Reid Hospital contracted with Dell, a revenue cycle management contractor. Their contract limited both sides’ damages in a breach of contract action in the absence of willful misconduct or gross negligence. Dell sold much of its portfolio to Conifer in 2012 while Dell was still losing money on the Reid contract. Conifer began reducing staff and neglecting duties; there was a slowdown throughout the revenue-management cycle and in processing patients’ discharge forms, leading to longer hospital stays that third-party payors refused to reimburse fully. After two years, Reid took its revenue operation back in-house. Reid's consultant found significant errors in Conifer’s work. Reid sued for breach of contract, claiming that Conifer’s actions caused the hospital to lose tens of millions of dollars. The court granted Conifer summary judgment, reading the contract as defining all claims for lost revenue as claims for “consequential damages,” prohibited absent “willful misconduct.”The Seventh Circuit reversed. Even if lost revenue is often considered consequential, this was a contract for revenue collection services and did not define all lost revenue as an indirect result of any breach. Lost revenue would have been the direct and expected result of Conifer’s failure to collect and process that revenue as required under the contract. The parties did not intend to insulate Conifer entirely from damages. View "Reid Hospital and Health Care, Inc. v. Conifer Revenue Cycle Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Zylstras purchased their RV from a non-party dealership for $91,559.15. A one-year warranty covered portions of the RV manufactured by DRV. “Written notice of defects subject to warranty coverage must be given to the selling dealer or DRV … within 30 days after the defect is discovered.” The owner is required to take the RV to the selling dealer or factory for repair. Each DRV vehicle is custom-built for the purchaser. The Zylstras took the vehicle in for punch-list items and for warranty repairs. During a subsequent long trip, Zylstra discovered that the black waste tank valve was leaking and that sewage had been leaking into the insulation throughout the RV's underbelly. He could not find a DRV authorized dealer but an independent mobile technician came and completed the repair. After the leak, the Zylstras stopped using the RV out of concern for their health. They contend that it is not, and never has been, fit for its ordinary purpose of recreational use.They filed a complaint alleging breach of express and implied warranty, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), and violation of state consumer protection laws. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of DRV. Even in the light most favorable to the Zylstras, DRV never had a reasonable opportunity to repair the defects as required under the warranty. View "Zylstra v. DRV, LLC" on Justia Law

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Meinders offers chiropractic services. United provides or administers insurance plans nationwide. In 2006, Meinders became a “participating provider” with United to expand his customer base; he signed a provider agreement with ACN. which provided administrative and network management services for chiropractors, and had a preexisting master services agreement with United. The agreement allowed ACN, “in its sole discretion,” to “assign its rights, duties or obligations” under the agreement.“ The agreement stated that if a dispute arose, either party “may” submit the issue “to arbitration” and any arbitration decision would be “final and binding.”Meinders submitted claims for United-insured patients directly to United; United paid those claims. Those claims were submitted on United forms and if an explanation of benefits was requested, United provided it. Meinders confirmed a patient’s eligibility either through United’s website or through a United phone number. ACN became a wholly-owned subsidiary of United.In 2013, United sent a fax to Meinders, who believed that United had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and filed suit. After remands, the district court held that “United … assumed the material obligations of ACN …, a wholly-owned subsidiary of United, under the Provider Agreement, which authorizes United to enforce the arbitration clause.” The Third Circuit affirmed. View "Dr. Robert L. Meinders, D.C., Ltd. v. United HealthCare Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Gradei’s withdrew from a multi-employer pension plan, asserting that it had ceased all operations covered by the governing multi-employer collective bargaining agreement and was no longer required to contribute to the Fund, which sought to collect $221,932.55 in withdrawal liability. Gradei’s did not respond to payment demands and filed for bankruptcy. The Fund sued the Pitellos (Gradei’s owners) and another corporation owned by the Pitellos (GX), on the theory that they were businesses under common control. The district court found that Gradei’s and GX were conducting business rent-free on property owned by the Pitellos, which was enough to establish common control.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381(a), 1404(a) withdrawal liability applies to the withdrawing employer and to “all trades or businesses ... under common control” with that employer. The court rejected Pitello’s argument that the property was only a passive investment. It is possible to rebut the presumption that leasing property to a withdrawing employer is a business but the Pitellos failed to do that. The court noted the economic equivalence between a return on investment in the form of rent collection and return on investment in the form of dividends or salaries made possible by the absence of any rent obligation. The land is part of the business. View "Local 705 International Brotherhood of Teamsters Pension Fund v. Pitello" on Justia Law

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Companies that tow or recycle used cars alleged that Milwaukee and its subcontractor, engaged in anticompetitive behavior to self-allocate towing services and abandoned vehicles, a primary input in the scrap metal recycling business. They alleged that an exclusive contract the city entered into with one of the area’s largest recycling providers, Miller Compressing, violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and that the contract provided direct evidence of an agreement to restrain trade. They cited laws that require a city-issued license to tow vehicles from certain areas, that obligate towing companies to provide various notices, and that cap maximum charges imposed on vehicle owners who have illegally parked or abandoned their vehicles, as having been enacted to squeeze them out of the market.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The arrangement between the city and Miller is not per se unreasonable on the basis of horizontal price-fixing. The court also rejected a claim of “bid-rigging.” View "Always Towing & Recovery Inc. v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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Evergreen manufactured RVs and sold 21 RVs to several affiliated Boat-N-RV dealers. After delivering those RVs, Evergreen went out of business. The invoices for the 21 RVs totaled $808,663. The dealers resold at least 20 of them to retail customers but did not pay Evergreen or its secured creditor. Evergreen’s lender, with a first-priority blanket security interest in all Evergreen assets, including accounts receivable, filed suit. The lender assigned its rights to Evergreen’s owner.The district court found that the lender’s successor had standing as a secured party and had proven that the dealers had breached the contracts. The court granted the dealers certain setoffs for warranty and rebate claims, and denied prejudgment interest on the net amounts the dealers owed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The parties did not intend to erase the security interest at the heart of the transaction and the assignment transferred a priority security interest in the RVs, making the successor the proper plaintiff. Holding the dealers liable for the purchase prices of the RVs but to allowing them setoffs for the rebates and warranty payments that Evergreen ow was the right solution for Evergreen’s failures to pay rebates and warranty obligations; the dealers were not entitled to setoffs for diminished value. View "KR Enterprises, Inc. v. Zerteck Inc" on Justia Law

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In 1986 Deibel, Hoeg, and Steffen founded Hy-Pro Corporation. Deibel, its president, received 2,500 shares, representing 12.5% of the authorized stock. Deibel guaranteed Hy-Pro’s payment of a $100,000 debt to a bank. Within a year Deibel demanded that Hoeg leave. When Hoeg refused, Deibel quit but held onto his stock even. A state court suit settled, but the settlement was not reduced to writing. Deibel insists that under the settlement Hy-Pro would pay $15,000 and arrange with the bank to release his guarantee. Hoeg and Steffen assert that Deibel was also to surrender his shares.Almost 30 years later, Deibel filed a federal suit. HyPro was sold in 2017 for about $20 million; a 12.5% share would exceed $2.5 million. Indiana has a two-year period of limitations for such claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely, rejecting Deibel’s claims that he was still an investor when the firm was sold, and, if not, that a firm’s refusal to recognize him as an investor was a “continuing wrong.” When Deibel did not return his shares, Hy-Pro canceled Deibel’s stock. Deibel has not been on the company’s books as a shareholder since 1992. Deibel received multiple letters from various parties, including the IRS, notifying him of that fact; his claim accrued no later than 1998. View "Deibel v. Hoeg" on Justia Law

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Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’” View "Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2005-2007, Merchant purchased Michigan hotel properties from NRB and financed the purchases through NRB, using corporate entities as the buyers. Merchant sold interests in those entities to investors. The hotels had been appraised at inflated amounts and sold for about twice their fair values. When the corporate entities defaulted on their loan payments, NRB foreclosed in 2009. Merchant claimed that NRB’s executives colluded with an appraiser to sell overvalued real estate to unsuspecting purchasers, wait for default, foreclose, and then repeat the process.In 2010, an investor sued Merchant, Merchant’s companies, NRB, and 12 others for investor fraud. In 2014 the FDIC took NRB into receivership and substituted for NRB as a defendant. Merchant and his companies brought a cross-complaint, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state laws. A Fifth Amended Cross-Complaint raised 14 counts against 10 defendants, including two law firms that provided NRB’s legal work. The district court dismissed several counts; others remain active.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims against the law firms. The counts under state law are untimely under Illinois’s statute of repose. The cross-complaint effectively admits that one firm played no role in NRB’s alleged fraud perpetrated against Merchant in 2005-2007. The cross-complaint failed to allege that either law firm conducted or participated in the activities of a RICO enterprise; neither firm could be liable under 18 U.S.C. 1962(c). View "Muskegan Hotels, LLC v. Patel" on Justia Law