Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries
Bismarck Financial Group, et al. v. Caldwell
Bismarck Financial Group, LLC, and its individual members (together “BFG”) appeal from an order granting James Caldwell’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss their complaint. According to BFG’s complaint, Bismarck Financial Group, LLC, was formed in 2009 as a limited liability company. After Caldwell became a member, the parties executed various governing documents, including an operating agreement. While Caldwell was a member, the company entered into a 10-year office lease. The company also had one salaried employee. In 2019, Caldwell informed the other members he was dissociating from the company. BFG subsequently brought this lawsuit requesting a declaration that Caldwell’s dissociation was wrongful and damages in excess of $137,879.55 based on Caldwell’s pro rata share of the company’s debt obligations, employee salary, office overhead, and other expenses. Caldwell moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Caldwell argued that he could not be held personally liable for company expenses and obligations under principles of corporate law. Caldwell also asserted BFG had not incurred any damages caused by his dissociation because, according to the terms of the operating agreement, the members have no obligation to contribute capital to cover company expenditures. The district court granted Caldwell’s motion. The court assumed Caldwell wrongfully dissociated from the company, but concluded BFG had not pleaded a cognizable claim for damages because Caldwell could not be held liable for future company expenses and obligations. Finding only that the district court erred in dismissing BFG's complaint as a matter of law in its entirety, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed in part, "BFG’s allegation that Caldwell’s withdrawal caused additional, currently-unidentifiable damages, if proven, is sufficient to support recovery against Caldwell." The Court affirmed in all other respects, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bismarck Financial Group, et al. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law
J-B Weld Co., LLC v. The Gorilla Glue Co.
J-B Weld filed suit against Gorilla Glue, alleging claims for trade dress infringement under the Lanham Act, Georgia law, and the common law of unfair competition; trade dress dilution under Georgia law; and false advertising under the Lanham Act and Georgia law.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Gorilla Glue as to the false advertising claims, agreeing with the district court that J-B Weld has not shown that the inclusion of "steel bond epoxy" on GorillaWeld's packaging is material to consumers. However, the court reversed and remanded with respect to the trade dress infringement and trade dress dilution claims. In regard to the trade dress infringement claims, the court held that, although the posture of the case required the district court to view the evidence in the light most favorable to J-B Weld, the district court failed to do so in analyzing the "likelihood of confusion" between J.B. Weld Original's trade dress and GorillaWeld's trade dress. In regard to the trade dress dilution claims, the court held that the district court's abbreviated treatment of this claim leaves it with serious doubt that it applied the correct standard in concluding that J-B Weld was unable to show trade dress dilution. In this case, the district court's remarks about the indistinguishability of the applicable standards indicates that it applied the elements of the trade dress infringement claims to the trade dress dilution claim, thus conflating the two different sets of requirements. View "J-B Weld Co., LLC v. The Gorilla Glue Co." on Justia Law
In re Altaba, Inc.
In this litigation in which Altaba, Inc. (the Company) sought dissolution under the framework established by Sections 280 and 281(a) of the Delaware General Corporation Law the Court of Chancery held that the Company may make an interim distribution using its proposed amounts of security on the condition that it reserve funds for lawsuits pending in Canada resulting from data breaches that the Company disclosed in 2016 (the Canadian Actions Claim).As to all but two claims, in which the Company agreed to hold back the full amount of security requested by respective claimants, the Court of Chancery held that there was no obstacle to an interim distribution based on the amounts of security. For two claims, however, the Company sought to hold back less than the full amount of security requested by the claimants. The Court of Chancery held (1) as to the Canadian Actions Claim, if the Company wished to make an interim distribution to its stockholders it must reserve $1.05 billion Canadian; and (2) as to the second claim, the Company made a convincing showing that the amount it proposed to reserve was likely to be sufficient to provide compensation for claims that had not been made known to the Company or that had not yet arisen. View "In re Altaba, Inc." on Justia Law
InteliClear, LLC v. ETC Global Holdings, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for ETC in an action brought by InteliClear, alleging that ETC misused its securities trading database. InteliClear alleged claims for trade secret misappropriations under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) and the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act.The panel held that: (1) there is a triable issue of fact as to whether (a) InteliClear described its alleged trade secrets with sufficient particularity and (b) InteliClear has shown that parts of the InteliClear System are secret; and (2) the district court abused its discretion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) by issuing its summary judgment ruling before discovery occurred. View "InteliClear, LLC v. ETC Global Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Sutton v. David Stanley Chevrolet
In 2016, plaintiff-appellee Isaac Sutton went shopping for a vehicle at the defendant-appellant David Stanley Chevrolet, Inc.'s (hereafter DSC) car dealership. He agreed to purchase a 2016 Chevy Silverado on credit and he agreed to trade-in his 2013 Challenger. He was informed by DSC that his credit was approved. In addition, he was given $22,800.00 for the Challenger for which he still owed $25,400.00. The documents for the purchase of the vehicle amounted to approximately eighty-six pages, which included a purchase agreement and a retail installment sale contract (RISC). He left the dealership that evening with the Silverado and left his Challenger. Several days later he was informed by DSC that his financing was not approved and he would need a co-signor to purchase the Silverado. Sutton visited DSC but was then told he did not need a co-signor and there was no need to return the vehicle. At the end of June his lender for his 2013 Challenger contacted him about late payments. Sutton contacted DSC who said it was not their responsibility to make those payments since they did not own the Challenger he traded-in. A few days later, he was notified by DSC that his Challenger had been stolen and the matter was not the responsibility of DSC. Sutton had to make an insurance claim on his Challenger and DSC took back the Silverado. In the meantime, Sutton continued to make payments on the Challenger. Plaintiff and his wife Celeste Sutton sued DSC over the whole transaction involving the Challenger. DSC moved to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs alleged they were fraudulently induced into entering the arbitration agreement. The trial court found there was fraudulent inducement and overruled the motion to compel arbitration. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings concerning the unconscionability of the arbitration agreement. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari, and found the trial court's order was fully supported by the evidence. The opinion of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals was therefore vacated and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Sutton v. David Stanley Chevrolet" on Justia Law
Brigade Leveraged Capital Structures Fund Ltd v. Stillwater Mining Co.
In 2017, Sibanye Gold Ltd. (“Sibanye”) acquired Stillwater Mining Co. (“Stillwater”) through a reverse triangular merger. Under the terms of the merger agreement, each Stillwater share at closing was converted into the right to receive $18 of merger consideration. Between the signing and the closing of the merger, the commodity price for palladium (which Stillwater mined) increased by nine percent, improving Stillwater’s value. Certain former Stillwater stockholders dissented to the merger, perfected their statutory appraisal rights, and pursued this litigation. During the appraisal trial, petitioners argued the flawed deal process made the deal price an unreliable indicator of fair value and that increased commodity prices raised Stillwater’s fair value substantially between the signing and closing of the merger. In 2019, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued an opinion, holding that the $18 per share deal price was the most persuasive indicator of Stillwater’s fair value at the time of the merger. The court did not award an upward adjustment for the increased commodity prices. Petitioners appealed the Court of Chancery’s decision, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it ignored the flawed sale process and petitioners’ argument for an upward adjustment to the merger consideration. After review of the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, and after oral argument, the Delaware Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the Court of Chancery. View "Brigade Leveraged Capital Structures Fund Ltd v. Stillwater Mining Co." on Justia Law
Janvey v. GMAG, LLC
The Supreme Court of Texas answered the Fifth Circuit's question and held that a transferee on inquiry notice of fraud cannot shield itself from the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act's (TUFTA) clawback provision without diligently investigating its initial suspicions of fraud—irrespective of whether a hypothetical investigation would reveal fraudulent conduct. Having received the answer from the Supreme Court of Texas, the court once again held that defendants' good faith defense must fail.The court reversed the district court's judgment in favor of the Magness Parties, holding that the record does not show that they accepted the fraudulent transfers in good faith; neither of the cited statements at issue demonstrate that the Parties diligently investigated their initial suspicions of the Stanford International Bank's Ponzi scheme on inquiry notice; the Parties have not shown that the Seventh Amendment or due process requires the court to remand for another jury trial; and the Parties have not demonstrated that, as a matter of law, the court cannot render a decision in favor of the Receiver based on the existing record. View "Janvey v. GMAG, LLC" on Justia Law
Ezaki Gliko Kabushiki Kaisha v. Lotte International America Corp.
Ezaki, a Japanese confectionery company, makes and sells “Pocky,” thin, stick-shaped cookies that are partly coated with chocolate or flavored cream. The end of each is left partly uncoated to serve as a handle. In 1978, Ezaki started selling Pocky in the U.S. and began registering U.S. trademarks and patents. It has two Pocky product configurations registered as trade dresses and has a patent for a “Stick Shaped Snack and Method for Producing the Same.” In 1983, the Lotte confectionery company started making Pepero stick-shaped cookies partly coated in chocolate or flavored cream. Pepero “looks remarkably like Pocky.”In 1993-1995, Ezaki sent letters, notifying Lotte of its registered trade dress and asking it to cease and desist. Ezaki took no further action until 2015, when it sued, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition, under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125(a)(1)(A). Under New Jersey law, it alleged trademark infringement and unfair competition. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Lotte, holding that because Pocky’s product configuration is functional, it is not protected as trade dress. Trade dress is limited to features that identify a product’s source. Patent law protects useful inventions, but trademark law does not. View "Ezaki Gliko Kabushiki Kaisha v. Lotte International America Corp." on Justia Law
Gruber v. Yelp Inc.
Yelp publishes crowdsourced business reviews and allows businesses to advertise on its Website and mobile app. Yelp employs over 2,000 sales representatives to solicit advertising sales. Gruber, a solo attorney practitioner, was contacted by phone several times by Yelp sales representatives. During these calls, in which the sales representatives’ voices were recorded, Gruber discussed confidential and financial information regarding his law firm. When conversing with one representative, who happened to be his friend, Gruber sometimes joked, discussed private topics, and used profanity. Gruber did not recall that any Yelp sales representative notified him that the conversations were being recorded. Gruber sued under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA) Pen. Code 630, alleging unlawful recording and intercepting of communications; unlawful recording of and eavesdropping upon confidential communications; and unlawful wiretapping.The trial court granted Yelp summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed. While Gruber was not recorded during any calls (only Yelp’s representatives were recorded), CIPA is violated if a defendant records any portion of a conversation between two or more individuals. When the Yelp salespeople spoke during the one-sided recordings of their conversations with Gruber, the recordings revealed firsthand and in real-time their understanding of or reaction to Gruber’s words. Yelp failed to meet its burden of production regarding whether its use of VoIP technology precludes CIPA's application. View "Gruber v. Yelp Inc." on Justia Law
Reales Investment, LLC v. Johnson
Two months before trial, appellant Reales Investment, LLC’s attorney moved to withdraw from the case. Reales did not retain counsel until a few days before trial began, and it did not participate in any of the pretrial proceedings mandated by Riverside County Superior Court Local Rule 3401. On the morning of the first day of trial, Reales’ new attorney orally requested a continuance. The trial court denied the request, and also excluded all documents and witnesses Reales did not disclose in pretrial exchanges between the parties as required by Rule 3401. Because Reales did not disclose anything under Rule 3401, it was precluded from offering any evidence or testimony at trial, so the trial court granted a nonsuit for respondent Thomas Johnson. On appeal, Reales argued the trial court’s pretrial rulings were an abuse of discretion. After review, the Court of Appeal found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the judgment. View "Reales Investment, LLC v. Johnson" on Justia Law