Articles Posted in Contracts

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This case involved an implied covenant to market gas. Energen owned and operated oil and gas wells in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Its wells were subject to leases and other agreements (many of which were quite old) requiring it to pay a monthly royalty or overriding royalty on production to the Anderson Living Trust, the Pritchett Living Trust, the Neely-Robertson Revocable Family Trust (N-R Trust), and the Tatum Living Trust. Believing Energen was systematically underpaying royalties, the Trusts filed a putative class action complaint against it. The New Mexico Trusts claimed Energen was improperly deducting from their royalties their proportionate share of (1) the costs it incurs to place the gas produced from the wells in a marketable condition (postproduction costs) and (2) a privilege tax the State of New Mexico imposes on natural gas processors (the natural gas processors tax). They also alleged Energen had not timely paid royalties or interest thereon, as required by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Proceeds Payments Act. Both the New Mexico Trusts and the Tatum Trust further claimed Energen was wrongfully failing to pay royalty on the gas it used as fuel. The district judge dismissed the New Mexico Trusts’ marketable condition rule claim for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and entered summary judgment in favor of Energen on the remaining claims. All of the Trusts appealed those judgments. For the most part, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court. The Tenth Circuit’s analysis differed from that of the district court relating to: (1) the fuel gas claims made by the N-R Trust and Tatum Trust; and (2) the New Mexico Trusts’ claim under the New Mexico Oil and Gas Proceeds Payments Act. As to the former, the N-R Trust’s overriding royalty agreement required royalty to be paid on all gas produced, including that gas used as fuel. And the Tatum Trust’s leases explicitly prohibited Energen from deducting post-production costs (Energen treats its use of the fuel gas as an in-kind postproduction cost). Moreover, the “free use” clauses and royalty provisions in the Tatum Trust’s leases limited the free use of gas to that occurring on the leased premises. Because use of the fuel gas occurred off the leased premises, Energen owed royalty on that gas. With regard to the latter, the district court was right in permitting Energen to hold funds owed to the N-R Trust in a suspense account until a title issue concerning a well was resolved in favor of that Trust. However, the district court did not address whether the N-R Trust was entitled to statutory interest on those funds. It was so entitled, yet the current record (at least in the Tenth Circuit’s analysis) did not show interest to have been paid on the funds. View "Anderson Living Trust v. Energen Resources" on Justia Law

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Richard Turley appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States, acting on behalf of the United States Postal Service, awarding specific performance of an option to purchase real estate from Turley. The purchase option was contained in a lease of the premises that the Postal Service had renewed on several occasions. Turley argued on appeal: (1) the lease had expired when the Postal Service attempted to exercise the purchase option because he had not received notice that the government was exercising its final option to renew the lease; (2) even if the lease was renewed, the Postal Service did not properly exercise the purchase option because it continued to negotiate for a new lease after it purported to exercise the option; and (3) equity precluded enforcement of the purchase option because the Postal Service attempted to use the purchase option as leverage to negotiate a better lease agreement. The Tenth Circuit was not persuaded. The Court found the lease-renewal option was properly exercised when the notice was delivered to the proper address, even though Turley refused to retrieve it. And Turley has presented no legal or equitable doctrine that would forbid a party who exercises (and is bound by) an option to purchase from pursuing an alternative arrangement. View "United States v. Turley" on Justia Law

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Kansas distinguishes between legal malpractice claims: some sound in contract, others sound in tort. Plaintiff Cory Sylvia sued his former attorneys, James Wisler and David Trevino, for legal malpractice allegedly sounding in tort and breach of contract arising from their representation of Sylvia in a suit for wrongful termination against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (“Goodyear”), his former employer. Later, Sylvia amended his complaint to add as a defendant Xpressions, L.C. (“Xpressions”), a limited liability company formerly known as the Wisler Law Office, L.C. Sylvia’s initial complaint characterized his claims as sounding both in tort and in contract. Specifically, he faulted: (1) both individual defendants for failing to include in, or to later amend, his complaint to aver a workers’ compensation retaliation claim; and (2) solely Wisler for voluntarily dismissing Sylvia’s case on the erroneous belief that all claims could be refiled, causing one of his claims to become barred by the statute of limitations. For each of these claims, Sylvia advanced both tort and contract theories of liability. This case presented a difficult question of Kansas law for the Tenth Circuit's review: when do legal malpractice claims involving a failure to act sound in tort rather than contract? After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and vacated in part the district court’s judgment dismissing Sylvia’s tort-based legal malpractice claims. However, regarding the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants on the breach of contract claims, the Court affirmed. View "Sylvia v. Wisler" on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal concerned a contract dispute about the provision of food services at the Fort Riley Army base in Kansas. The Department of the Army (Army) contracts with outside vendors for food preparation and related supporting services for its cafeteria dining facilities at Fort Riley. Since 2006, the State of Kansas, through the Kansas Department for Children and Families (Kansas), successfully bid under the RSA on those food preparation and related services contracts at Fort Riley. Kansas’s most recent contract awarded under the RSA was scheduled to expire in February 2016. As that date approached, the Army determined that its next dining contract at Fort Riley would be for supporting services only. The Army therefore decided that it need not solicit bids under the RSA and it approached another vendor directly, as permitted by the JWOD. Kansas took exception to the Army’s decision because it eliminated Kansas’s ability to bid on the contract. So Kansas initiated arbitration proceedings under the RSA’s dispute resolution provisions. And upon learning that the Army intended to contract with the other vendor despite the commencement of arbitration proceedings, Kansas sued in federal court, seeking to preliminarily enjoin the Army from executing the JWOD contract pending arbitration. The root of the dispute was the intersection of two federal statutes that both address the procurement of food services at federal facilities: (1) the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Act of 1936 (RSA), and (2) the Javits Wagner O’Day Act (JWOD). The parties disagreed as to which of these statutes governed the award of the Fort Riley food services contract. And due to events that have occurred since this action was filed, the parties also disputed whether this appeal was rendered moot. The Tenth Circuit concluded that the issue raised by this appeal fell within an exception to the mootness doctrine for matters capable of repetition yet evading review. Because an arbitration panel has since issued its decision thereby dissolving the injunction at issue in this appeal, the Court declined to address whether the district court correctly granted the injunction. View "Kansas Department for Children v. SourceAmerica" 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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HCG Platinum, LLC ("HCG") and Preferred Product Placement Corporation (“PPPC”) entered into a Marketing Agreement under which PPPC agreed to place HCG products into specified retailers in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds. Shortly thereafter, HCG filed the underlying breach-of-contract action against PPPC, seeking compensatory damages for PPPC’s alleged breaches and a declaratory judgment that HCG properly terminated the Marketing Agreement on account of these breaches. PPPC counterclaimed for breach of contract and asserted third-party contract claims against individuals and entities associated with HCG. Prior to trial, HCG moved to preclude PPPC from presenting evidence of damages, asserting that PPPC’s initial (and never supplemented) disclosures provided an insufficient description and computation of PPPC’s damages theory. Finding PPPC’s initial disclosures insufficient and its request to compel discovery untimely, the district court excluded the damages evidence from PPPC’s disclosures. Exclusion of that evidence, in turn, necessarily barred PPPC from pursuing its counterclaims, and the district court subsequently entered judgment against PPPC on that basis. PPPC appealed, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by imposing a discovery sanction that carried the force of dismissal, despite the fact that its discovery shortcomings resulted in only minimal and curable prejudice to HCG. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment in favor of HCG on PPPC’s counterclaims ​and remanded for the district court to reconsider the exclusion of PPPC’s damages evidence under an analysis that considers, among other things, the availability of lesser sanctions. View "HCG Platinum v. Right Way Nutrition" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Earl Oldam raised chickens for O.K. Farms since 1995. In 2014, he and O.K. entered into the chicken-growing contract at issue in this case. The contract had a three-year duration, but O.K. retained the right to terminate the contract for certain specified reasons, including “[b]reach of any term or condition of this contract,” “[a]bandonment or neglect of a flock,” and “[f]ailure to care for or causing damage to [O.K.’s] equipment or property.” In 2016, Plaintiff discovered that one of his three chicken houses had flooded after an overnight rainstorm. Plaintiff contacted O.K. to inform them of the issue; some of the flock in the affected henhouse perished from the flood. Remaining chickens were collected by O.K. Plaintiff was paid for the work he had done in raising the surviving chickens to this point, reduced by various expenses such as the costs of catching and moving the chickens. Shortly thereafter, O.K. sent Plaintiff a letter providing him with a ninety-day notice of contract termination for breach of the terms of the contract. Plaintiff filed suit in state court, alleging that O.K. breached the contract by terminating the agreement without adequate cause. O.K. removed the action to federal court and filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court stated that it had looked at the undisputed material facts from the summary judgment pleadings and found “questions of fact galore” on all of the arguments raised by O.K. in its motion. “But,” the court continued, “all that doesn’t matter,” because Plaintiff “didn’t say come take away the chickens from the flooded henhouse. He said come take them all.” The court granted O.K.’s motion for summary judgment, reasoning that because there was “nothing in the evidentiary material showing [that the chickens in the other henhouses] were in danger at all, he abandoned them” by telling O.K. to come pick them all up. In reversing the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit found plaintiff raised arguments that directly addressed the district court’s sua sponte reasoning and that he was not provided an opportunity to make at trial, and argued he was prejudiced by the district court’s entry of judgment on this basis without considering any of the contrary arguments he might have made given notice and a reasonable time to respond. The Court was persuaded that Plaintiff had shown prejudice from the trial court’s sua sponte summary judgment decision. View "Oldham v. O.K. Farms" on Justia Law

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The contract at issue in this appeal was an Independent Contractor Agreement (the Contract) between the Ute Indian Tribe and Lynn Becker, a former manager in the Tribe’s Energy and Minerals Department. Becker claimed the Tribe breached the Contract by failing to pay him 2% of net revenue distributed to Ute Energy Holdings, LLC from Ute Energy, LLC. After Becker filed suit in Utah state court, the Tribe filed this suit against him and Judge Barry Lawrence, the state judge presiding over Becker’s suit, seeking declarations that: (1) the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute; (2) the Contract was void under federal and tribal law; and (3) there was no valid waiver of the Tribe’s sovereign immunity for the claims asserted in state court. The Tribe also sought a preliminary injunction ordering defendants to refrain from further action in the state court proceedings. The federal district court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the Tribe’s challenge to the jurisdiction of the state court. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The Court held that the Tribe’s claim that federal law precluded state-court jurisdiction over a claim against Indians arising on the reservation presented a federal question that sustained federal jurisdiction. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Lawrence" on Justia Law

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The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation appealed a preliminary injunction ordering it not to proceed with litigation in tribal court against a nonmember former contractor, Lynn Becker. The district court ruled that although the parties’ dispute would ordinarily come within the tribal court’s jurisdiction, their Independent Contractor Agreement (the Contract) waived the Tribe’s right to litigate in that forum. The Tribe argued: (1) the tribal-exhaustion rule, which ordinarily requires a federal court to abstain from determining the jurisdiction of a tribal court until the tribal court has ruled on its own jurisdiction, deprived the district court of jurisdiction to determine the tribal court’s jurisdiction; and (2) even if exhaustion was not required, the preliminary injunction was improper because the Contract did not waive the Tribe’s right to litigate this dispute in tribal court. In addition, the Tribe challenged the district court’s dismissal of its claims under the federal civil-rights act, 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking to halt state-court litigation between it and Becker. The Tenth Circuit did not agree the tribal-exhaustion rule was jurisdictional, but agreed the district court should have abstained on the issue. Although the Contract contained a waiver of the tribal-exhaustion rule, Becker could not show a likelihood of success based on the validity of the waiver; he failed to adequately counter the Tribe’s contention that the entire Contract, including the waiver, was void because it did not receive federal-government approval, as was required for contracts transferring property held in trust for the Tribe by the federal government. With respect to the Tribe’s claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Tenth Circuit found the Tribe has not stated a claim because it is not a “person” entitled to relief under that statute when it is seeking, as here, to vindicate only a sovereign interest. To resolve the remaining issues raised in this case, the Court adopted its decision in the companion case of Ute Indian Tribe v. Lawrence, No. 16-4154 (August 25, 2017). View "Becker v. Ute Indian Tribe" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Jacquelyn Jacks bought a manufactured home from CMH Homes, Inc., on an installment plan. The purchase was financed through CMH Homes under a manufactured home retail installment contract. The contract contained an arbitration agreement, which provides that all disputes arising from, or relating to, the contract would be resolved by binding arbitration. By its terms, the agreement also covered all co-signors and guarantors, and any occupants of the manufactured Home (as intended beneficiaries of the arbitration agreement. Jacks moved into the home with her husband and their children. Five years later, the Jacks family sued CMH Homes, CMH Manufacturing, and Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance (not a party to this appeal). They claimed: (1) CMH negligently installed and repaired the manufactured home’s water system, which caused toxic mold to grow; (2) the manufactured home was unreasonably dangerous at the time it left the control of CMH; (3) the manufactured home was not fit for habitation. Jacks also sought to rescind her purchase of the manufactured home, along with her agreement to pay Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance the indebtedness incurred to purchase the home. The CMH defendants removed the case from state to federal court and moved to compel arbitration and stay the court proceedings. The district court granted the motion to compel as to the claims of Jacks, but denied the motion as to the remaining plaintiffs who were not parties to the installment contract. Defendants had argued that Jacks’ husband and their children were likewise bound by the arbitration agreement, even though they never signed the contract. The district court held that “the single sentence in the Arbitration Agreement generically referencing ‘any occupants of the Manufactured Home (as intended beneficiaries of this Arbitration Agreement)’ was not sufficient to make the nonsignatory plaintiffs third party beneficiaries of the Arbitration Agreement and subject to being compelled to arbitration. The district court also rejected Defendants’ contention that the nonsignatory plaintiffs were “bound to arbitrate their claims” under “the doctrine of equitable estoppel.” Defendants timely appealed the district court’s partial denial of their motion to stay and to compel arbitration. The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error in the district court’s judgment and affirmed it. View "Jacks v. CMH Homes" on Justia Law