Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts

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Bonni Genzer, an Uber driver, contended James River Insurance Company, Uber’s insurer, breached its contractual obligations by declining coverage for injuries she sustained in an accident on the return leg of a lengthy fare. Genzer also contended that, under Oklahoma law, the “mend the hold” doctrine limited James River to the grounds it gave for declining coverage before she sued. The district court granted summary judgment in James River’s favor, first ruling that Oklahoma had not adopted the mend-the-hold doctrine, and next holding that Genzer’s claim falls outside the scope of the governing insurance policy. The Tenth Circuit agreed as to both issues. View "Genzer v. James River Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Antero Resources Company and South Jersey Gas Company entered into an eight-year contract for Antero to deliver natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation to gas meters located on the Columbia Pipeline in West Virginia. The parties tied gas pricing to the Columbia Appalachia Index.During performance of the contract, the price of natural gas linked to the Index increased. South Jersey contested the higher prices, arguing that modifications to the Index materially changed the pricing methodology, and that the Index should be replaced with one that reflected the original agreement. Antero disagreed. South Jersey then sued Antero in New Jersey state court for failing to negotiate a replacement index, and began paying a lower price based on a different index. Antero then sued South Jersey in federal district court in Colorado, where its principal place of business was located, for breach of contract for its failure to pay the Index price. The lawsuits were consolidated in Colorado and the case proceeded to trial. The jury rejected South Jersey’s claims, finding South Jersey breached the contract and Antero was entitled to $60 million damages. South Jersey argued on appeal the district court erred in denying its motion for judgment in its favor as a matter of law, or, alternatively, that the court erred in instructing the jury. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding a reasonable jury could find South Jersey breached its contract with Antero because the Index was not discontinued nor did it materially change. Furthermore, the Court found no defects in the jury instructions. View "Antero Resources Corp. v. South Jersey Resources Group" on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of Brent Sloan’s participation in two transactions: (1) a merger between Advanced Recovery Systems, LLC and Kinum, Inc.; and (2) the sale of software from Kinum to Sajax Software, LLC. American Agencies, LLC alleged harm from these transactions and sued Sloan for damages and restitution. After the close of evidence, Sloan filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Following the denial of this motion, a jury found Sloan liable on American Agencies’ claims of tortious interference with business relations, conspiracy to interfere with business relations, tortious interference with contract, copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Sloan unsuccessfully renewed his motion for judgment as a matter of law. After the district court denied this motion, Sloan appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part finding Sloan did not preserve his arguments as to tortious interference with business relations, conspiracy to interfere with business relations, and tortious interference with contract. The Tenth Circuit agreed the district court erred in instructing the jury on improper means, and the Court concurred with Sloan that on the claim of unjust enrichment, the jury could not have reasonably inferred the value of a benefit to him. View "Sloan v. American Agencies, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellees Air Methods Corporation and Rocky Mountain Holdings, LLC provide air ambulance services. Defendants provided air ambulance services to Plaintiffs-Appellants, or in some cases to their minor children. Plaintiffs dispute their obligation to pay the full amounts charged by Defendants because Plaintiffs claim to have never agreed with Defendants on a price for their services. Plaintiffs filed suit, asserting jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d), to determine what, if any, amounts they owe Defendants. Plaintiffs also sought to recover any excess payments already made to Defendants. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs’ claims were pre-empted by the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA), 49 U.S.C. 41713. The district court agreed and dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of all Plaintiffs’ breach of implied contract claims, the Scarlett Plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment claim, all Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claims, and the Scarlett Plaintiffs’ due process claims; the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the Cowen Plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment claim, only with respect to the existence of contracts between the Cowen Plaintiffs and Defendants; and the Court remanded for further proceedings. View "Scarlett v. Air Methods Corporation" on Justia Law

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PetroChina Canada bought ten large heat-exchanger units from Kelvion’s Oklahoma plant for use in PetroChina’s oil and gas operations. Their contract included a mandatory forum-selection clause subjecting the parties to Canadian jurisdiction. After a dispute over unanticipated delivery costs that PetroChina refused to pay, Kelvion brought suit in Oklahoma. It asserted quantum meruit and unjust enrichment claims, arguing the forum-selection clause did not apply to its equitable claims. The district court disagreed, concluding the forum-selection clause applied, and dismissed the suit under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Finding no error in judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for forum non conveniens. View "Kelvion, Inc. v. PetroChina Canada Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Bill Barrett Corporation and YMC Royalty Company were oil and gas companies who held mineral rights in northeastern Colorado. In 2013, they had the opportunity to jointly develop two oil wells. To facilitate the drilling operations, YMC executed documents authorizing joint expenditures, accepting responsibility for costs, and electing to participate and share in the revenues. But after depositing nearly $150,000 in revenues, YMC asserted it had never entered into an enforceable joint operating agreement with Barrett and declined to pay its share of the costs. Barrett sued for breach of contract. A jury ultimately found in favor of Barrett. The district court denied YMC’s motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. After its review of the matter, the Tenth Circuit concluded the parties formed an enforceable contract under Colorado law and a reasonable jury could conclude the parties should be held to their bargain. The Court also found no reversible error in the district court's administration of trial, and affirmed that court's judgment. View "Bill Barrett Corporation v. YMC Royalty Company" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee First American Title Insurance Co. appealed a district court’s orders granting summary judgment in favor of and attorneys’ fees to Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant Banner Bank (“the Bank”). The district court held that First American had a duty to defend and indemnify its insured, the Bank, breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and was responsible for attorneys’ fees in this case. This resulted in an award of damages ($675,000) plus attorneys’ fees in an underlying lawsuit ($159,288), and consequential damages of attorneys’ fees in this case ($130,411.50). The Bank cross-appealed in the event that the award of consequential damages was procedurally incorrect. The Tenth Circuit concluded First American did not breach its duty of good faith and fair dealing, so any award of damages arising from that implied term was improper. Because it was error to award attorneys’ fees, arguments whether the Bank should have been awarded fees under its renewed motion for attorneys’ fees or under Rule 54(d) were moot, and the Bank’s cross-appeal under Rule 60 should have been dismissed. Because the Court concluded there was no duty to defend or indemnify, nor a breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, the damages awards could not stand. On remand, the district court was ordered to vacate its orders and judgments to the contrary and enter judgment in favor of First American. View "Banner Bank v. First American Title Insurance" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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At issue in this appeal were commercial general liability policy exclusions that barred coverage for damage to “that particular part” of the property on which an insured is performing operations, or which must be repaired or replaced due to the insured’s incorrect work. The Tenth Circuit concluded the phrase “that particular part” was susceptible to more than one reasonable construction: it could refer to the distinct component upon which an insured works or to all parts ultimately impacted by that work. The Court surmised the contract had to then be interpreted consistent with the mutual intent of the parties, with the ambiguity resolved most favorably to the insured and against the insurance carrier. The Court adopted the narrower interpretation of the phrase “that particular part,” under which the exclusion extends only to the distinct components upon which work was performed. This conclusion was contrary to the district court's interpretation, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "MTI v. Employers Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Dennis Woolman, former president of The Clemens Coal Company, challenged a district court’s determination that Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company didn’t breach a duty to him by failing to procure for Clemens Coal an insurance policy with a black-lung disease endorsement. Clemens Coal operated a surface coal mine until it filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Woolman served as Clemens Coal’s last president before it went bankrupt. Federal law required Clemens Coal to maintain worker’s compensation insurance with a special endorsement covering miners’ black-lung disease benefits. Woolman didn’t personally procure insurance for Clemens Coal but instead delegated that responsibility to an outside consultant. The policy the consultant ultimately purchased for the company did not contain a black-lung-claim endorsement, and it expressly excluded coverage for federal occupational disease claims, such as those arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act (the Act). In 2012, a former Clemens Coal employee, Clayton Spencer, filed a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL) against Clemens Coal for benefits under the Act. After some investigation, the DOL advised Woolman that Clemens Coal was uninsured for black-lung-benefits claims as of July 25, 1997 (the last date of Spencer’s employment) and that, without such coverage, Woolman, as Clemens Coal’s president, could be held personally liable. Woolman promptly tendered the claim to Liberty Mutual for a legal defense. Liberty Mutual responded with a reservation-of-rights letter, stating that it hadn’t yet determined coverage for Spencer’s claim but that it would provide a defense during its investigation. Then in a follow-up letter, Liberty Mutual clarified that it would defend Clemens Coal as a company (not Woolman personally) and advised Woolman to retain his own counsel. Liberty Mutual eventually concluded that the insurance policy didn’t cover the black-lung claim, and sued Clemens Coal and Woolman for a declaration to that effect. In his suit, Woolman also challenged the district court’s rejection of his argument that Liberty Mutual should have been estopped from denying black-lung-disease coverage, insisting that he relied on Liberty Mutual to provide such coverage. Having considered the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court didn’t err in declining Woolman’s extraordinary request to expand the coverages in the Liberty Mutual policy. “Liberty Mutual never represented it would procure the coverage that Woolman now seeks, and the policy itself clearly excludes such coverage. No other compelling consideration justifies rewriting the agreement— twenty years later—to Woolman’s liking.” View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman" on Justia Law

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The issue raised on appeal in this matter centered on a trespass claim by Plaintiffs-Appellants Marvin and Mildred Bay that Defendants-Appellees Anadarko E&P Onshore LLC and Anadarko Land Corp. (together, “Anadarko”), that through a lessee, exceeded the scope of an easement by using excessive surface land to drill for oil and gas. The district court had diversity jurisdiction over the case and entered final judgment against the Bays pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). The Tenth Circuit was presented with an issue of whether a deed reserving mineral rights in land (and the specific right to use the surface as “convenient or necessary” to access the minerals) requires applying a different test than the one prescribed in Gerrity Oil & Gas Corp. v. Magness, 946 P.2d 913 (Colo. 1997), to evaluate whether the mineral owner’s use of land constitutes a trespass. The Court concluded it did not, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bay v. Anadarko E&P Onshore" on Justia Law