Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The United States Court of Appeals considered an indemnification case between Nissan, an automobile manufacturer, and Continental, a brake parts supplier. Nissan sought indemnification from Continental for a $24 million jury award and $6 million in attorney fees and costs resulting from a products liability lawsuit in California. The lawsuit arose after an accident involving a Nissan vehicle, with the jury finding that the design of the vehicle’s braking system caused harm to the plaintiffs. Nissan argued that a provision in their contract with Continental obligated Continental to indemnify them for the jury award and litigation costs. Both the district court and the Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the contract required Nissan to show that a defect in a Continental-supplied part caused the injury, which Nissan failed to do. The Appeals Court affirmed the district court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Continental. View "Nissan North America, Inc. v. Continental Automotive Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals affirmed a district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Adroit Medical Systems, Inc., Grazyna Gammons, Kelley Patten, and Gene Gammons. The plaintiff, Scott Gammons, alleged that his father and stepfamily, who controlled the family business, Adroit, were diverting company funds for personal use without accounting for tax consequences. He claimed that after he reported their financial misdeeds to the IRS, they fired him. Scott brought an action under federal and state whistleblower statutes and state common law.The court found that while Scott’s reporting of alleged financial malfeasance to the IRS was protected conduct and may have contributed to his termination, the defendants had clear and convincing evidence that they would have fired Scott due to his attempted hostile takeover of the company, irrespective of his whistleblowing. Scott had obtained an emergency conservatorship over his father, Gene, which he used to control the family business. When the conservatorship was dissolved, the defendants regained control and promptly fired Scott.Scott also brought claims under the Tennessee Public Protection Act (TPPA) and state common law. The court found that Scott failed to show that the defendants’ legitimate reason for terminating him was pretextual. The court also rejected Scott’s state common law claims, holding that the individual defendants were immune from tortious interference claims as they were acting within their corporate capacities and did not personally benefit from Scott’s termination. View "Gammons v. Adroit Medical Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a dispute between Ultra Bond, Inc., and its owner, Richard Campfield (collectively "Ultra Bond"), and Safelite Group, Inc. and its affiliates (collectively "Safelite"), both parties operate in the vehicle glass repair and replacement industry. Ultra Bond alleges that Safelite violated the Lanham Act by falsely advertising that windshield cracks longer than six inches could not be safely repaired and instead required replacement of the entire windshield. Safelite counterclaims that Ultra Bond stole trade secrets from Safelite in violation of state and federal law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the district court was incorrect to grant summary judgment to Safelite on Ultra Bond’s Lanham Act claim. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Safelite's allegedly false statements may have caused economic injury to Ultra Bond, and this issue should go to a jury.The court also affirmed the district court's decision that Safelite's claims for conversion, civil conspiracy, and tortious interference with contract were preempted by the Ohio Uniform Trade Secrets Act (OUTSA). However, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Ultra Bond on Safelite’s claim under OUTSA, ruling that Safelite's claim was not time-barred and should be evaluated further in the lower court.Finally, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Ultra Bond on Safelite's unfair competition claim, finding that Safelite hadn't provided enough evidence to support its claim that Ultra Bond's statements were false or that they had led to a diversion of customers from Safelite to Ultra Bond. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Campfield v. Safelite Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Township solicited bids for the demolition of former hospital buildings. ICC, a Detroit-based minority-owned company, submitted the lowest bid. AAI, a white-owned business submitted the second-lowest bid, with a difference between the bids of almost $1 million. The Township hired a consulting company (F&V) to vet the bidders and manage the project. F&V conducted interviews with both companies and provided a checklist with comments about both companies to the Township. ICC alleges that F&V made several factual errors about both companies, including that AAI had no contracting violations and that ICC had such violations; that ICC had no relevant experience, that AAI had relevant experience, and that AAI was not on a federal contracting exclusion list. F&V recommended that AAI receive the contract. The Township awarded AAI the contract. ICC filed a complaint, alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, and Michigan law.The district court dismissed the case, finding that ICC failed to state a claim under either 42 U.S.C. 1981 or 42 U.S.C. 1983 by failing to allege the racial composition of its ownership and lacked standing to assert its constitutional claims and that F&V was not a state actor. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. ICC had standing to bring its claims, and sufficiently pleaded a section 1981 claim against F&V. The other federal claims were properly dismissed. View "Inner City Contracting LLC v. Charter Township of Northville" on Justia Law

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Septic systems comprise a septic tank that isolates and contains the sewage; the remaining wastewater flows through a drain field, where microorganisms treat it. Customers have two options for private septic systems—aerobic treatment units (contained systems), or soil-based/open-bottom treatment systems (T&D systems). Geomatrix markets and sells a T&D system, while many of its competitors sell contained systems.Since 1970, NSF has offered certification for the wastewater treatment industry, A manufacturer needs to obtain certification before marketing products in at least 37 states. This standard is developed through a voluntary consensus process, overseen by a joint committee staffed by NSF employees, state regulatory officers, industry manufacturers, and consumers. Geomatrix obtained certification. Geomatrix alleges that competitors then began conspiring against T&D systems, questioning whether T&D systems should be entitled to certification and disparaging the efficacy of T&D systems. The alleged conspiracy affected Geomatrix’s business by preventing it from obtaining state regulatory approval, although its certification should have made it possible to do so. Ultimately, Geomatrix withdrew its NSF certification. NSF has not adopted a new standard; discussions remain ongoing.Geomatrix filed suit, alleging violations of the Sherman Act and the Lanham Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The defendants’ petitioning activity was immunized under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. Geomatrix failed to show the proximate cause required for its unfair competition claims, and its promissory estoppel claims were based on statements that did not state a sufficiently definite promise. View "Geomatrix, LLC v. NSF International" on Justia Law

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Legacy, a small family-owned business, provides nonemergency ambulance services in several Ohio counties that border Kentucky. After receiving many inquiries from Kentucky hospitals and nursing homes, Legacy sought to expand into the Commonwealth. Kentucky required Legacy to apply for a “certificate of need” with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Existing ambulance providers objected to Legacy’s request. The Cabinet denied Legacy’s application partly on the ground that these providers offered an adequate supply. Legacy sued, alleging that Kentucky’s certificate-of-need law violated the “dormant” or “negative” part of the Commerce Clause.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to Legacy’s request to offer intrastate ambulance transportation in Kentucky. Under the modern approach to the dormant Commerce Clause, a law’s validity largely depends on whether it discriminates against out-of-state businesses in favor of in-state ones. Legacy’s evidence suggests that the state’s limits will harm Kentucky’s own “consumers.” It has not shown a “substantial harm” to interstate commerce. The court reversed with respect to Legacy’s request to offer interstate ambulance transportation between Kentucky and Ohio. States may not deny a common carrier a license to provide interstate transportation on the ground that the interstate market contains an “adequate” supply. The bright-line rule barring states from obstructing interstate “competition” does require a finding that a state has discriminated against out-of-state entities. View "Truesdell v. Friedlander" on Justia Law

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In 1965, the predecessors of the Louisville and Jefferson County Metropolitan Government established the Riverport Authority, which constructed and owns a 300-acre Ohio River port facility. In 2009, the Authority leased the facility to “Port of Louisville.” In 2016, the parties extended the lease, potentially until 2035. According to Port, in 2018, Bouvette, the Authority’s director, started secret negotiations with its competitor, Watco. Port alleges that Bouvette and Watco needed a pretext to terminate the existing agreement and hired outside advisors to inspect the facility. These allegedly biased advisors found the facility “mismanaged, unsafe, and in disrepair.” The Authority asserted that Port had breached the lease and filed suits to remove it from the facility while conducting public bidding and awarding a lease to Watco, contingent on Port’s removal from the site. In one suit, Kentucky courts upheld a decision in favor of Port.In another suit, Port alleged tortious interference with contractual and business relationships, civil conspiracy, and defamation against Watco and Bouvette. The district court rejected Bouvette’s defenses under state-law sovereign immunity, governmental immunity, and Kentucky’s Claims Against Local Governments Act, noting the Authority’s status as a corporation and that it performed a proprietary (not governmental) function. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Under Kentucky law, a “state agency” cannot receive “automatic” immunity but the Authority is under the substantial control of an immune “parent.” The development of “transportation infrastructure” is a government task; the Authority does not act with a “profit” motive and alleviates a statewide concern. View "New Albany Main Street Props. v. Watco Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Columbus-based financial advisors developed a financial product seemingly unique to the annuities market: the Transitions Beneficiary Income Rider, which would guarantee that, following a life insurance policyholder’s death, an insurance company would pay death-benefit proceeds to beneficiaries throughout their lifetimes. They founded Novus to launch the product. Novus contracted with Genesis and Annexus, financial product developers, to handle the eventual pitch to Novus’s target customer, Nationwide. Each agreement contained a confidentiality provision. Nationwide would not sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) and cautioned Novus not to disclose any confidential information about the Rider. An Annexus executive shared the Rider concept by email with Nationwide VP Morrone. Nationwide chose not to pursue the concept. After Novus’s unsuccessful pitch, Branch, Morrone’s supervisor, left Nationwide to join its competitor, Prudential. Branch convinced Ferris, also in Branch’s chain-of-command, and who had allegedly attended the in-person pitch, to leave Nationwide for Prudential. Prudential subsequently launched Legacy “eerily similar to” Rider.In Novus’s suit, alleging that Prudential engaged in trade secrets misappropriation, in violation of Ohio’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the district court granted summary judgment to Prudential. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. There is no reference to a confidential relationship through which Prudential acquired information about the Rider concept. View "Novus Group, LLC v. Prudential Financial, Inc." on Justia Law

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Miller, who describes himself as “an active wine consumer,” asserts that he wants to order wine from out-of-state retailers and would like to be able to buy wine in other states and transport that wine back into Ohio for his personal use. House of Glunz is an Illinois wine retailer and alleges that it wishes to ship wine directly to Ohio consumers but cannot. Miller and Glunz challenged the constitutionality of Ohio liquor laws preventing out-of-state wine retailers from shipping wine directly to Ohio consumers and prohibiting individuals from transporting more than 4.5 liters of wine into Ohio during any 30-day period.The district court held that the Direct Ship Restriction is constitutional under binding Sixth Circuit precedent; the Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from the claims; and the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the Transportation Limit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Eleventh Amendment immunity, reversed with respect to the Direct Ship Restriction and the plaintiffs’ standing to challenge the Transportation Limit. On remand, the district court shall determine whether the challenged statutes “can be justified as a public health or safety measure or on some other legitimate nonprotectionist ground,” and whether their “predominant effect” is “the protection of public health or safety,” rather than “protectionism.” View "Block v. Canepa" on Justia Law

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You, a U.S. citizen of Chinese origin, worked as a chemist, testing the chemical coatings used in Coca-Cola’s beverage cans. You was one of only a few Coca-Cola employees with access to secret BPA-free formulas. You secretly planned to start a company in China to manufacture the BPA-free chemical and received business grants from the Chinese government, claiming that she had developed the world’s “most advanced” BPA-free coating technology. On her last night as a Coca-Cola employee, You transferred the formula files to her Google Drive account and then to a USB drive. You certified that she had not kept any confidential information. You then joined Eastman, where she copied company files to the same account and USB drive. Eastman fired You and became aware of her actions. Eastman retrieved the USB drive and reported You to the FBI.You was convicted of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, 18 U.S.C. 1832(a)(5), possessing stolen trade secrets, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, and economic espionage. The Sixth Circuit remanded for resentencing after rejecting You’s claims that the district court admitted racist testimony and gave jury instructions that mischaracterized the government’s burden of proof as to You’s knowledge of the trade secrets and their value to China. In calculating the intended loss, the court clearly erred by relying on market estimates that it deemed speculative and by confusing anticipated sales of You’s planned business with its anticipated profits. View "United States v. You" on Justia Law