Articles Posted in Business Law

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The district court dismissed Marc Schenkel's claims against Xyngular Corporation and various third parties as a sanction for abuse of what he claims was pre-litigation discovery. The Tenth Circuit had not previously decided whether pre-litigation conduct that did not give rise to the substantive claims in a case was sanctionable by dismissal of a party’s claims. After review of Schenkel's arguments on appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded termination sanctions were permissible when pre-litigation conduct was aimed at manipulating the judicial process and was unrelated to the conduct that gave rise to the substantive claims in a case. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that these conditions were met in the present case, its judgment was affirmed. View "Xyngular v. Schenkel" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether the district court correctly held that ACE American Insurance Company (ACE) had no duty to defend and indemnify DISH Network (DISH) in a lawsuit alleging that DISH’s use of telemarketing phone calls violated various federal and state laws. The primary question centered on whether statutory damages and injunctive relief under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act were “damages” under the insurance policies at issue and insurable under Colorado law, or were uninsurable “penalties.” The Court concluded they were penalties under controlling Colorado law, and affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of ACE. View "ACE American Insurance Company v. Dish Network" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Richard Tabura and Guadalupe Diaz were Seventh Day Adventists. Their religious practice of not working Saturdays conflicted with their job schedules at a food production plant operated by Defendant Kellogg USA, Inc. (“Kellogg”). Eventually Kellogg terminated each Plaintiff for not working their Saturday shifts. Plaintiffs alleged that in doing so, Kellogg violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by failing to accommodate their Sabbath observance. Both sides moved for summary judgment. The district court denied Plaintiffs’ motion and granted Kellogg summary judgment, concluding as a matter of law both that Kellogg did reasonably accommodate Plaintiffs’ religious practice and, alternatively, that Kellogg could not further accommodate their Sabbath observance without incurring undue hardship. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review of the district court record that the district court erred in granting Kellogg summary judgment; however, on the same record, the district court did not err in denying Plaintiffs summary judgment. View "Tabura v. Kellogg USA" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit addressed whether the federal district court in Colorado may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendant Continental Motors, Inc. based upon its contacts with Colorado through its website. Continental Motors’ website allows airplane repair businesses known as fixed- base operators (“FBOs”) to obtain unlimited access to its online service manuals in exchange for an annual fee. Arapahoe Aero, a Colorado-based FBO participating in the program, accessed and consulted the manuals in servicing an airplane that contained engine components manufactured by Continental Motors. The airplane later crashed in Idaho on a flight from Colorado. After the crash, Old Republic Insurance Company, the airplane’s insurer, paid the owner for the property loss and filed a subrogation action against Continental Motors in Colorado federal district court, seeking reimbursement. Old Republic alleged that Continental Motors’ online service manuals and bulletins contained defective information, thereby causing the crash. Continental Motors moved to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that it did not purposely direct its activities at Colorado. Old Republic conceded that Continental Motors did not maintain sufficient contacts with Colorado to support jurisdiction for all purposes. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, ruling that it did not have specific jurisdiction over Continental Motors. On appeal, Old Republic maintains that Continental Motors was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in Colorado for purposes of this case. Finding no reversible error in dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Old Republic Insurance Co. v. Continental Motors" on Justia Law

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Objector-Appellant Dale Hefner appeals from the district court’s denial of his motion for settlement-related discovery, approval of the settlement agreement, and order regarding attorneys’ fees. This case concerns the settlement agreement and attorneys’ fees related to two separate shareholder derivative suits on behalf of SandRidge Energy Inc. (“SandRidge”) against its directors. The first of those actions was filed in federal district court in January 2013. The federal derivative suit alleged self-dealing, usurpation of corporate opportunities, and misappropriation by Tom Ward, SandRidge’s founding CEO, and entities affiliated with him. Hefner filed the second derivative suit was filed in Oklahoma state court in 2013. The director-defendants moved the state court to stay the action pending a resolution in the federal case, or in the alternative to dismiss the suit entirely. Hefner objected, and the state court stayed the action but denied the motion to dismiss. In 2014, the state court entered a stipulated and agreed to order granting SandRidge’s motion to stay. Then in 2015, the federal district court granted a preliminary approval of a partial settlement in the federal suit. Hefner (1) filed a contingent motion for attorneys’ fees and reimbursement of expenses, (2) objected to the settlement, and (3) requested additional settlement-related discovery. The district court denied Hefner’s motion for additional discovery and, after a hearing on the other matters, entered a final order and judgment approving the proposed partial settlement and denying the request for attorneys’ fees. While the appeal was pending before the Tenth Circuit, SandRidge filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. SandRidge gave notice of the bankruptcy court’s approval of the company’s plan of reorganization and filed a contemporaneous motion to dismiss the appeal as moot, contending that because company stock was cancelled as part of the bankruptcy, Hefner did not have standing to pursue a shareholder derivative claim; the relevant derivative claims were released and discharged as part of the reorganization, and the right to pursue derivative litigation vested in reorganized SandRidge. The Tenth Circuit agreed that Hefner's claims were moot, and finding no other reversible error, it appealed. View "Elliot v. Ward" on Justia Law

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First Western Capital Management (“FWCM”), and its parent company First Western Financial, Inc. (collectively, “First Western”), sought a preliminary injunction against former employee Kenneth Malamed for misappropriating trade secrets. In 2008, FWCM acquired Financial Management Advisors, LLC (“FMA”), an investment firm Malamed founded in 1985 primarily to serve high net worth individuals and entities such as trusts and foundations. After selling FMA, Malamed worked for FWCM from 2008 until FWCM terminated him on September 1, 2016. In early 2016, a committee of FWCM directors began discussing the possibility of selling FWCM to another company. Although Malamed was not involved in these discussions, he learned about the potential sale and, in a meeting with other FWCM officers, expressed his displeasure with the buyer under consideration. Following the meeting, Malamed emailed his assistant asking her to print three copies of his client book, which contained the names and contact information for approximately 5,000 FWCM contacts. Of these contacts, 331 were current FWCM clients and roughly half of those had been clients of FMA before First Western acquired it. The printout also contained spreadsheets that included, among other information, client names, the total market value of their holdings under management, and the fees being charged by FWCM. On September 1, 2016, shortly after Malamed’s employment contract expired, First Western fired him. That same day, First Western served him with a complaint it had filed in federal court a month earlier, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (“DTSA”), and the Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“CUTSA”), breach of employment contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. First Western moved for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent Malamed from soliciting FWCM’s clients. The district court excused First Western from demonstrating irreparable harm (one of the four elements a party seeking injunctive relief is typically required to prove) and granted the injunction. As applied here, the Tenth Circuit determined that if First Western could not show irreparable harm, it cannot obtain injunctive relief. The district court should not have entered the preliminary injunction here. View "First Western Capital v. Malamed" on Justia Law

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The Santa Cruz Operation, Inc. (Santa Cruz) entered into a business arrangement with International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) to develop a new operating system that would run on a more advanced processor manufactured by Intel Corporation (Intel). The parties signed an agreement memorializing this relationship, calling it “Project Monterey.” Another technology company, The SCO Group, Inc. (SCO), then acquired Santa Cruz’s intellectual property assets and filed this lawsuit for IBM’s alleged misconduct during and immediately after Project Monterey. SCO accused IBM of stealing and improperly using source code developed as part of the Project to strengthen its own operating system, thereby committing the tort of unfair competition by means of misappropriation. The district court awarded summary judgment to IBM on this claim based on the independent tort doctrine, which barred a separate tort action where there was no violation of a duty independent of a party’s contractual obligations. SCO also accused IBM of disclosing Santa Cruz’s proprietary materials to the computer programming community for inclusion in its Linux open-source operating system. In a separate order, finding insufficient evidence of actionable interference by IBM, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of IBM on these tortious interference claims. Finally, after the deadline for amended pleadings in this case, SCO sought leave to add a new claim for copyright infringement based on the allegedly stolen source code from Project Monterey. SCO claimed it had only discovered the essential facts to support this claim in IBM’s most recent discovery disclosures. The district court rejected SCO’s proposed amendment for failure to show good cause. SCO appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s order awarding IBM summary judgment on the misappropriation claim, and affirmed as to all other issues. View "SCO Group v. IBM" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Tenth Circuit in this case was whether an arbitrator exceeded his authority under section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and whether he manifestly disregarded the law in awarding certain costs and fees to the prevailing party. Under its restrictive standard of review, the Court concluded the arbitrator did not exceed his authority or manifestly disregard the law. View "THI of New Mexico at Vida Enca v. Lovato" on Justia Law