Justia Business Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
In re: SS Body Armor I Inc.
In 2005, revelations surfaced that Body Armor—a publicly-traded company—was manufacturing its body armor, which it sold to law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military, using substandard materials. Its stock price plummeted, prompting shareholders to bring numerous actions that were consolidated into a shareholders’ class action and a derivative action on behalf of Body Armor against specified officers and directors. Since then, the matter has traveled, through bankruptcy, trial, and appellate courts throughout three U.S. jurisdictions. In its second review of the case, the Third Circuit affirmed a 2015 Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware order, approving a settlement entered in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of S.S. Body Armor I. The court reversed in part the Bankruptcy Court’s order that granted the objector fees on a contingent basis and remanded for a determination of the appropriate amount of the fee award. The court affirmed the part of that order that denied the objector’s claim to attorneys’ fees and expenses under the Bankruptcy Code and an order awarding fees to counsel in one of the underlying lawsuits. View "In re: SS Body Armor I Inc." on Justia Law
Norman v. Elkin
Founding USM to acquire FCC licenses, Elkin contributed $750,000 and Norman $250,000. Norman acquired the licenses; his day-to-day involvement ended. In 1998, the FCC announced another auction. USM won several licenses, which Elkin transferred to TEG, another company that he owned; purportedly USM did not have sufficient funds. Elkin did not respond to Norman's inquiries. Some FCC notices listed USM as the winning bidder; others referred to TEG as the licenses' owner. Before 2002, without notifying Norman, Elkin caused USM to enter into a Shareholder Loan Agreement (SLA) to treat any amount Elkin contributed above his capital requirement as a loan. Elkin lent USM more than $600,000. In 2000-2001, USM sold licenses. Norman received federal income tax forms that declared USM had realized a capital gain. In 2000-2002, USM paid Elkin $615,026 from the sales proceeds. Norman received nothing. In 2002. Elkin admitted that licenses had been sold and that he had taken a distribution. Norman's 2004 Delaware "books and records" action was resolved in his favor in 2005. Norman sued, raising various tort and contract claims After two trials and a remand, the district court concluded that the limitations period for each of Norman’s claims was tolled during the Delaware Action and that Norman’s claim based on 2002 distributions was timely. Oer Third Circuit mandate, the court ruled in Normans' favor with respect to the execution of the SLA. For Norman’s other claims, including those based on 2001 distributions, the court held that Norman had at least inquiry notice beyond the limitations period. Elkin then argued that Norman was not entitled to tolling relating to the Delaware Action because he brought that suit in bad faith. The district court refused to consider new evidence. The Third Circuit affirmed, except with respect to Norman’s claim based on 2001 events. View "Norman v. Elkin" on Justia Law
Fischbein v. Olson Research Group Inc
The district courts dismissed two cases, concluding that faxes soliciting participation by the recipients in market research surveys in exchange for monetary payments are not advertisements within the meaning of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (b)(1)(C) (TCPA), which prohibits the transmission of unsolicited fax advertisements. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit reversed.. Solicitations to buy products, goods, or services can be advertisements under the TCPA. The solicitations for participation in the surveys in exchange for $200.00 by one sender and $150.00 by the other sender were for services within the TCPA. An offer of payment in exchange for participation in a market survey is a commercial transaction, so a fax highlighting the availability of that transaction is an advertisement under the TCPA. View "Fischbein v. Olson Research Group Inc" on Justia Law
Advanced Fluid Systems Inc v. Huber
Huber stole confidential information from his employer AFS (a manufacturer of hydraulic systems) for an AFS competitor, Livingston, and later for a company he created, INSYSMA, to compete against both AFS and Livingston. AFS eventually sued, alleging trade secret misappropriation claims under the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act. On summary judgment, the district court held as a matter of law that Huber and INSYSMA were liable under the Trade Secrets Act for misappropriating AFS’s trade secrets. Following a bench trial, the court held Livingston and two of its employees jointly and severally liable with Huber and INSYSMA for that misappropriation, and held all defendants except a Livingston employee and INSYSMA liable for breach of fiduciary duty or aiding and abetting that breach, and awarded compensatory damages, exemplary damages, and punitive damages from various defendants. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that AFS does not “own” the purported trade secrets at issue; that the claimed trade secrets are not actually protectable under the Trade Secrets Act, that the Livingston Parties were prejudiced by their counsel’s conduct at and following the trial, and that the damages awards were unwarranted. The Act only requires that a plaintiff lawfully possess the trade secrets it wishes to vindicate. View "Advanced Fluid Systems Inc v. Huber" on Justia Law
New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, Inc. v. Mazda Motor of America Inc
The Coalition, an association of franchised New Jersey new car dealerships, filed suit under the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act on behalf of 16 Mazda dealer-members. Mazda had an incentive program for its franchised dealers (MBEP), which provides incentives, per-vehicle discounts or rebates on the dealers’ purchases of vehicles from Mazda, to dealers who make certain investments in their physical facilities that highlight their sale of Mazda vehicles or dedicate their dealerships exclusively to the sale of Mazda vehicles. The incentives come in different tiers, with the highest tier available to dealers who have exclusive Mazda facilities and a dedicated, exclusive Mazda general manager. Mazda dealers also earn incentives if they meet customer experience metrics. Mazda dealers who sell other brands of vehicles as well as Mazdas, do not receive incentives for brand commitment. Only three of the 16 Mazda dealers in the Coalition qualified for the highest tier; eight others qualified for some tier of incentives. The complaint alleged that the MBEP creates unfair competitive advantages for dealers who qualify for incentives under the MBEP at the expense of those dealers who do not, and even among incentivized dealers through different tiers. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case, rejecting as too narrow the district court’s rationale--that the Coalition lacked standing because only five of the 16 Mazda dealers would benefit from the lawsuit, so the Coalition cannot possibly be protecting the interests of its members. View "New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, Inc. v. Mazda Motor of America Inc" on Justia Law
Razak v. Uber Technologies Inc
Plaintiffs, drivers who use Uber’s mobile phone application to provide limousine services (UberBLACK) in Philadelphia, claimed violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, and Pennsylvania laws. Plaintiffs each own and operate independent transportation companies (ITCs) as required to drive for UberBLACK. Each ITC’s agreement with Uber includes a Software License and outlines the relationships between ITCs, Uber riders, Uber, and Uber drivers. It describes driver requirements, vehicle requirements, financial terms, and contains an arbitration clause. A mandatory agreement between the ITC and the for-hire driver allows a driver to receive services through Uber’s app and outlines driver requirements, insurance requirements, dispute resolution. Some UberBLACK providers operate under Uber’s Philadelphia certificate of convenience; others hold their own certificates; approximately 75% of UberBLACK drivers use Uber’s automobile insurance. Plaintiffs claim that they are employees and allege that time spent online on the Uber App qualifies as FLSA compensable time. Uber argued that Plaintiffs are not restricted from working for other companies, pay their own expenses, can engage workers for their own ITCs, can use UberBLACK as little or as much as they want, and have no restrictions on personal activities while online. The Third Circuit vacated summary judgment. A reasonable fact-finder could rule in favor of Plaintiffs. Disputed facts include whether Plaintiffs are operating within Uber’s system and under Uber’s rules; whether Plaintiffs or their corporations contracted directly with Uber; and whether Uber exercises control over drivers. View "Razak v. Uber Technologies Inc" on Justia Law
Wells Fargo, N.A. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc.
HomeBanc, in the residential mortgage loan business, obtained financing from Bear Stearns under 2005 repurchase agreements and transferred multiple securities to Bear Stearns. In 2007 HomeBanc failed to repurchase the securities or pay for an extension of the due date. Bear Stearns issued a notice of default. HomeBanc filed voluntary bankruptcy petitions. Bear Stearns, claiming outright ownership of the securities, auctioned them to determine their fair market value. After the auction closed, Bear Stearns’s finance desk determined that Bear Stearns’s mortgage trading desk had won. Bear Stearns allocated the $60.5 million bid across 36 securities. HomeBanc believed itself entitled to the August 2007 principal and interest payments from the securities. HomeBanc claimed conversion, breach of contract, and violation of the automatic bankruptcy stay. Following multiple rounds of litigation, the district court found that Bear Stearns acted reasonably and in good faith. The Third Circuit affirmed. A bankruptcy court’s determination of good faith regarding an obligatory post-default valuation of collateral subject to a repurchase agreement receives mixed review. Factual findings are reviewed for clear-error while the ultimate issue of good faith receives plenary review. Bear Stearns liquidated the securities at issue in good faith compliance with the Repurchasing Agreement. Bear Stearns never claimed damages; 11 U.S.C. 101(47)(A)(v) “damages,” which may trigger the requirements of 11 U.S.C. 562, require a non-breaching party to bring a legal claim for damages. The broader safe harbor protections of 11 U.S.C. 559 were relevant. View "Wells Fargo, N.A. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Sapa Extrusions, Inc. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.
Sapa manufactures aluminum extruded profiles, pre-treats the metal and coats it with primer and topcoat. For decades, Sapa supplied “organically coated extruded aluminum profiles” to Marvin, which incorporated these extrusions with other materials to manufacture aluminum-clad windows and doors. This process was permanent, so if an extrusion was defective, it could not be swapped out; the whole window or door had to be replaced. In 2000-2010, Marvin bought about 28 million Sapa extrusions and incorporated them in about 8.5 million windows and doors. Marvin sometimes received complaints that the aluminum parts of its windows and doors would oxidize or corrode. The companies initially worked together to resolve the issues. In the mid-2000s, there was an increase in complaints, mostly from people who lived close to the ocean. In 2010, Marvin sued Sapa, alleging that Sapa had sold it extrusions that failed to meet Marvin’s specifications. In 2013, the companies settled their dispute for a large sum. Throughout the relevant period, Sapa maintained 28 commercial general liability insurance policies through eight carriers. Zurich accepted the defense under a reservation of rights, but the Insurers disclaimed coverage. Sapa sued them, asserting breach of contract. The district court held that Marvin’s claims were not an “occurrence” that triggered coverage. The Third Circuit vacated in part, citing Pennsylvania insurance law: whether a manufacturer may recover from its liability insurers the cost of settling a lawsuit alleging that the manufacturer’s product was defective turns on the language of the specific policies. Nineteen policies, containing an Accident Definition of “occurrence,” do not cover Marvin’s allegations, which are solely for faulty workmanship. Seven policies contain an Expected/Intended Definition that triggers a subjective-intent standard that must be considered on remand. Two policies with an Injurious Exposure Definition also include the Insured’s Intent Clause and require further consideration. View "Sapa Extrusions, Inc. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Obasi Investment Ltd v. Tibet Pharmaceuticals Inc
Tibet, a holding company, “effectively control[led]” Yunnan, a manufacturer. Tibet attempted to raise capital for Yunnan's operations through an initial public offering (IPO). Zou was an investor in Tibet and the sole director of CT, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tibet. Tibet’s control of Yunnan flowed through CT. Zou told Downs, a managing director at the investment bank A&S, about the IPO. A&S agreed to serve as Tibet’s placement agent. Zou and downs were neither signatories to Tibet’s IPO registration statement nor named as directors of Tibet but were listed as non-voting board observers chosen by A&S without formal powers or duties. The registration statement explained, “they may nevertheless significantly influence the outcome of matters submitted to the Board.” The registration statement omitted information that Yunnan had defaulted on a loan from the Chinese government months earlier. Before Tibet filed its amended final prospectus, the Chinese government froze Yunnan’s assets. Tibet did not disclose that. The IPO closed, offering three million public shares at $5.50 per share. The Agricultural Bank of China auctioned off Yunnan’s assets, which prompted the NASDAQ to halt trading in Tibet’s stock. Plaintiffs sued Zou, Downs, Tibet, A&S, and others on behalf of a class of stock purchasers under the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. 77k(a). The Third Circuit directed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Zou and Downs, holding that a nonvoting board observer affiliated with an issuer’s placement agent is not a “person who, with his consent, is named in the registration statement as being or about to become a director[ ] [or] person performing similar functions,” under section 77k(a). The court noted the registration statement’s description of the defendants, whose functions are not “similar” to those of board directors. View "Obasi Investment Ltd v. Tibet Pharmaceuticals Inc" on Justia Law
Coba v. Ford Motor Co.
Beginning in 2001, Ford received complaints from F-Series vehicle purchasers, relating to the fuel tanks. The problems were clustered in certain regions. Ford suspected that unique qualities in regional fuel supplies, particularly excessive concentrations of biodiesel, were causing delamination. In 2007, Ford released an improved tank coating. Ford’s warranty claims decreased, but some reports of delamination persisted. By 2010, Ford believed that the cause was not biodiesel but was acids found in fuel samples from service stations near a dealer that encountered numerous delamination complaints. Coba purchased two 2006 F-350 dump trucks for his landscaping business. By 2009, both trucks exhibited delamination. Ford's dealership replaced the tanks and filters in both trucks at no cost to Coba. Coba continued to have the same problems, even after the warranties expired. Coba filed a class-action, asserting breach of Ford’s New Vehicle Limited Warranty (NVLW), violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (NJCFA), and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Ford. The denial of class certification did not divest the district court of jurisdiction, although jurisdiction was predicated on the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d).The NVLW, which covered defects in “materials or workmanship” did not extend to design defects, such as alleged by Coba, which also negated his breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims. The evidence of Ford’s knowledge of the alleged defect did not create a triable NJCFA issue. View "Coba v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law