Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
by
This appeal stemmed from mass litigation between thousands of corn producers and an agricultural company (Syngenta). On one track, corn producers filed individual suits against Syngenta; on the second, other corn producers sued through class actions. The appellants were some of the corn producers who took the first track, filing individual actions. (the “Kellogg farmers.”) The Kellogg farmers alleged that their former attorneys had failed to disclose the benefits of participating as class members, resulting in excessive legal fees and exclusion from class proceedings. These allegations led the Kellogg farmers to sue the attorneys who had provided representation or otherwise assisted in these cases. The suit against the attorneys included claims of common-law fraud, violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO) and Minnesota’s consumer-protection statutes, and breach of fiduciary duty. While this suit was pending in district court, Syngenta settled the class actions and thousands of individual suits, including those brought by the Kellogg farmers. The settlement led to the creation of two pools of payment by Syngenta: one pool for a newly created class consisting of all claimants, the other pool for those claimants’ attorneys. For this settlement, the district court allowed the Kellogg farmers to participate in the new class and to recover on an equal basis with all other claimants. The settlement eliminated any economic injury to the Kellogg farmers, so the district court dismissed the RICO and common-law fraud claims. The court not only dismissed these claims but also assessed monetary sanctions against the Kellogg farmers. The farmers appealed certain district court decisions, but finding that there was no reversible error or that it lacked jurisdiction to review certain decisions, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Kellogg, et al. v. Watts Guerra, et al." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-Appellant GeoMetWatch Corporation, (“GMW”) appealed several district court orders granting summary judgment to Defendant-Appellees Alan Hall, Erin Housley, Brent Keller, Mark Hurst, Debbie Wade, Island Park Investments, and Tempus Global Data, Inc. (collectively, the “Hall Defendants”); Utah State University Advanced Weather Systems Foundation (“AWSF”) and Scott Jensen (collectively, the “AWSF Defendants”); and Utah State University Research Foundation (“USURF”), Robert Behunin, and Curtis Roberts (collectively, the “USURF Defendants”). The underlying suit arose from the collapse of a venture GMW entered into, created for the purpose of constructing and deploying a satellite-hosted weather sensor system. GMW alleged that all Defendants, led by Hall, conspired to drive GMW out of business on the eve of the venture by stealing its confidential and trade secret information, forming a competing business, and pulling out of agreements that Hall made with GMW. The district court granted summary judgment to the Hall Defendants primarily because of an overarching deficiency in GMW’s case, and in particular, a lack of non-speculative and sufficiently probative evidence of a causal nexus between Defendants’ alleged bad acts and GMW’s asserted damages. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of USURF, AWSF, and Roberts because they were allegedly immune from lawsuit under the Utah Governmental Immunity Act (“UGIA”). The district court granted summary judgment to Jensen and Behunin on all claims, concluding generally that GMW’s showing of causation also was deficient as to them. The court likewise awarded partial summary judgment to AWSF on its breach-of-contract counterclaim against GMW, effectively denying GMW’s cross-motion for summary judgment and affirmative defenses. GMW avers that the district court’s decisions were all made in error. Finding no error, however, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the grants of summary judgment. View "GeoMetWatch, et al. v. Behunin, et al." on Justia Law

by
Competing trade associations offered memberships to home inspectors, who typically inspect homes prior to home sales. Benefits of membership in the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) included online advertising to home buyers, educational resources, online training, and free services such as logo design. From 2015 to 2020, ASHI featured the slogan “American Society of Home Inspectors. Educated. Tested. Verified. Certified” on its website. Contending that tagline mislead consumers, InterNACHI sued ASHI under the federal Lanham Act, claiming the line constituted false advertising because it inaccurately portrayed ASHI’s entire membership as being educated, tested, verified, and certified, even though its membership includes so-called “novice” inspectors who had yet to complete training or become certified. InterNACHI argued this misleading advertising and ASHI’s willingness to promote novice inspectors to the public caused InterNACHI to lose potential members and dues revenues. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ASHI, concluding no reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s allegedly false commercial advertising. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred: because InterNACHI did not present any evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s slogan, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for ASHI. View "Examination Board, et al. v. International Association, et al." on Justia Law

by
Taj Jerry Mahabub, founder and Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of GenAudio, Inc. (“GenAudio”; collectively referred to as “Appellants”) attempted to secure a software licensing deal with Apple, Inc. (“Apple”). Mahabub intended to integrate GenAudio’s three-dimensional audio software, “AstoundSound,” into Apple’s products. While Appellants were pursuing that collaboration, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) commenced an investigation into Mr. Mahabub’s conduct: Mahabub was suspected of defrauding investors by fabricating statements about Apple’s interest in GenAudio’s software and violating registration provisions of the securities laws in connection with sales of GenAudio securities. The district court found Mahabub defrauded investors and violated the securities laws. The court determined that Appellants were liable for knowingly or recklessly making six fraudulent misstatements in connection with two offerings of GenAudio’s securities in violation of the antifraud provisions of the securities laws. Appellants appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the SEC. View "SEC v. GenAudio Inc., et al." on Justia Law

by
Over four years, Plaintiffs-Appellants Eighteen Seventy, LP and the Marie Kennedy Foundation (the “Kennedy Entities” or “Entities”) lost more than $10 million they invested in CRUPE Pte. Ltd. (“CRUPE”) and its subsidiaries. CRUPE was a foreign company organized under the laws of Singapore and managed in Zurich, Switzerland. Believing that CRUPE’s co-founder and CFO, Defendant-Appellee Richard Jayson, induced their investment losses through misrepresentations and material omissions, the Kennedy Entities sued Jayson for gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. The Entities, both of which had their principal place of business in Wyoming, averred that Jayson surreptitiously used their financial support to compensate himself and another company co-founder while failing to provide the Kennedy Entities with information about CRUPE’s viability and the true nature of their investments. Jayson, a domiciliary and resident of the United Kingdom, moved to dismiss the Kennedy Entities’ suit, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), arguing that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. The district court agreed with Jayson and dismissed the complaint. The Kennedy Entities appealed appeal, claiming the district court erred when it held Jayson lacked the requisite minimum contacts with Wyoming to afford the court personal jurisdiction. They contended Jayson purposefully directed activities at Wyoming by preparing investment documents that encouraged the Kennedy Entities’ investments and by communicating with the Entities’ owners about the investments. These contentions notwithstanding, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of this case for want of personal jurisdiction. “Although the Kennedy Entities meet the first prong of the purposeful direction test, they fail to satisfy the second: that is, they fail to show that Mr. Jayson expressly aimed his conduct at Wyoming.” View "Eighteen Seventy, et al. v. Jayson" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Wells Fargo Bank filed a statutory-interpleader action after facing conflicting demands for access to the checking account of Mesh Suture, Inc. Mark Schwartz, an attorney who founded Mesh Suture with Dr. Gregory Dumanian, was named as a claimant-defendant in the interpleader complaint but was later dismissed from the case after the district court determined that he had disclaimed all interest in the checking account. The district court ultimately granted summary judgment to Dr. Dumanian as the sole remaining claimant to the bank account, thereby awarding him control over the funds that remained. Schwartz appealed, arguing: (1) the district court lacked jurisdiction over the case because (a) there was not diversity of citizenship between him and Dr. Dumanian and (b) the funds in the checking account were not deposited into the court registry; (2) he did not disclaim his fiduciary interest in the checking account, and (3) the award of funds to Dr. Dumanian violated various rights of Mesh Suture. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment. View "Wells Fargo Bank v. Mesh Suture, et al." on Justia Law

by
Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc. (“Bimbo Bakeries”) owned, baked, and sold Grandma Sycamore’s Home-Maid Bread (“Grandma Sycamore’s”). Bimbo Bakeries alleged that United States Bakery (“U.S. Bakery”), a competitor, and Leland Sycamore (“Leland”), the baker who developed the Grandma Sycamore’s recipe, misappropriated its trade secret for making Grandma Sycamore’s. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of U.S. Bakery on a trade dress infringement claim. The parties went to trial on the other two claims, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Bimbo Bakeries on both. After the trial, the district court denied U.S. Bakery’s and Leland’s renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law on the trade secrets misappropriation and false advertising claims. The district court did, however, remit the jury’s damages award. All parties appealed. Bimbo Bakeries argued the district court should not have granted U.S. Bakery summary judgment on its trade dress infringement claim and should not have remitted damages for the false advertising claim. U.S. Bakery and Leland argued the district court should have granted their renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, and Leland made additional arguments related to his personal liability. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings because the Court found all of Bimbo Bakeries’ claims failed as a matter of law. View "Bimbo Bakeries USA, et al. v. Sycamore, et al." on Justia Law

by
TCI Pacific Communications, LLC (“TCI”) appealed a district court’s judgment holding it liable to Cyprus Amax Minerals Co. (“Cyprus”) for contribution under 42 U.S.C. sections 9601(9)(B), 9607(a), and 9613(f) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). This case involved claims brought by Cyprus to determine whether TCI could be held liable for environmental cleanup costs relating to zinc smelting operations near Collinsville, Oklahoma. The Bartlesville Zinc Company, a former subsidiary of Cyprus’s predecessor, operated the Bartlesville Zinc Smelter (the “BZ Smelter”) from 1911 to 1918, near Collinsville, Oklahoma. TFMC owned and operated another zinc smelter (the “TFM Smelter”) from 1911 to 1926. This case does not concern cleanup work at either smelter, but rather is an action by Cyprus seeking cost recovery and contribution for its remediation in the broader Collinsville area, within the Collinsville Soil Program (“CSP”) Study Area. Cyprus sought to hold TCI liable as a former owner or operator of the TFM Smelter whose waste was located throughout the CSP Study Area. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Cyprus and pierced the corporate veil to hold TCI’s corporate predecessor, the New Jersey Zinc Company (“NJZ”), liable as the alter ego of the Tulsa Fuel & Manufacturing Co. (“TFMC”). The district court then interpreted CERCLA and held that TCI was liable as a former owner/operator of a CERCLA “facility.” Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Cyprus Amax Minerals Company v. TCI Pacific Communications" on Justia Law

by
David Efron and Efron Dorado SE (collectively, "Efron") appealed a civil contempt order entered by the district court for violating its preliminary injunction. This litigation began when the Federal Trade Commission and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection filed a complaint in the federal district court against Zurixx, LLC and related entities. The complaint alleged Zurixx marketed and sold deceptive real-estate investment products. The district court entered a stipulated preliminary injunction, enjoining Zurixx from continuing its business activities and freezing its assets wherever located. The injunction also directed any person or business with actual knowledge of the injunction to preserve any of Zurixx’s assets in its possession, and it prohibited any such person or business from transferring those assets. A week later, the receiver filed a copy of the complaint and injunction in federal court in Puerto Rico, where Zurixx leased office space from Efron. The office contained Zurixx’s computers, furniture, and other assets. The receiver also notified Efron of the receivership and gave him actual notice of the injunction. Although Efron at first allowed the receiver access to the office to recover computers and files, he later denied access to remove the remaining assets and initiated eviction proceedings against Zurixx in a Puerto Rico court. Given these events, the receiver moved the district court in Utah for an order holding Efron in contempt of court for violating the injunction. In response, Efron claimed the assets belonged to him under his lease agreement with Zurixx. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal determined the contempt order was a non-final decision. It therefore dismissed this appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Federal Trade Commission, et al. v. Zurixx, et al." on Justia Law

by
This appeal grew out of a dispute over a program (“The Trial Lawyers College”) to train trial lawyers. The College’s board of directors splintered into two factions, known as the “Spence Group” and the “Sloan Group.” The two groups sued each other: The Spence Group sued in state court for dissolution of the College and a declaratory judgment recognizing the Spence Group’s control of the Board; the Sloan Group then sued in federal court, claiming trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. Both groups sought relief in the federal case. The federal district court decided both requests in favor of the Sloan Group: The court denied the Spence Group’s request for a stay and granted the Sloan Group’s request for a preliminary injunction. The Spence Group appealed both rulings. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of a stay. After the Spence Group appealed the federal district court’s ruling, the state court resolved the dispute over Board control. So this part of the requested stay became moot. The remainder of the federal district court’s ruling on a stay did not constitute a reviewable final order. The Court determined it had jurisdiction to review the grant of a preliminary injunction. In granting the preliminary injunction, the district court found irreparable injury, restricting what the Spence Group could say about its own training program and ordering removal of sculptures bearing the College’s logo. The Spence Group challenged the finding of irreparable harm, the scope of the preliminary injunction, and the consideration of additional evidence after the evidentiary hearing. In the Tenth Circuit's view, the district court had the discretion to consider the new evidence and grant a preliminary injunction. "But the court went too far by requiring the Spence Group to remove the sculptures." View "Trial Lawyers College v. Gerry Spences Trial Lawyers, et al." on Justia Law