Articles Posted in Contracts

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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

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The parties to this suit agreed they had a contract, but disputed prices. The district court granted summary judgment to CSI Calendaring, Inc. On appeal the parties raised a number of arguments about whose view of the price should prevail. They disagreed about whether they already had agreed on the price before issuance of the January quote at issue, whether the January quote modified any prior agreement, and whether Obermeyer Hydro Accessories, Inc. was bound by CSI’s view of the pricing because Obermeyer paid a number of invoices over several months that reflected that view. In the Tenth Circuit's view, there were unresolved factual disputes that precluded judgment for either party, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Obermeyer Hydro v. CSI Calendering" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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Plaintiff-Appellant Suture Express, Inc. appeals from the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Cardinal Health 200, LLC (“Cardinal”) and Owens & Minor Distribution, Inc. (“O&M”) under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Section 3 of the Clayton Act, and the Kansas Restraint of Trade Act (“KRTA”). Suture Express, Cardinal, and O&M compete in the national broadline medical-and-surgical (“med-surg”) supply and distribution market. After Suture Express entered the "suture-endo" market and steadily grew its market share, Cardinal and O&M responded by instituting bundling packages in their contracts. Suture Express sued Cardinal and O&M, alleging that their bundling arrangements constituted an illegal tying practice in violation of federal and state antitrust laws. The court held that Suture Express’s federal claims failed as a matter of law because it could not establish that either Cardinal or O&M individually possessed sufficient market power in the other-med-surg market that would permit it to restrain trade in the suture-endo market. Even were this not the case, however, the court also held that: (1) Suture Express could not establish antitrust injury because it had not shown that competition itself had been harmed; and (2) Cardinal and O&M cited sufficient procompetitive justifications for the bundling arrangement to overcome any harm caused by any anticompetitive effects resulting from the bundle. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Suture Express, the Tenth Circuit did not think the company could survive summary judgment under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, Section 3 of the Clayton Act, or the Kansas Restraint of Trade Act. "There simply is not enough probative evidence by which a reasonable jury could find that Cardinal’s and O&M’s bundling arrangement unreasonably restrained trade in violation of federal or state antitrust law." View "Suture Express v. Owens & Minor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jared Trent Cowen’s 2000 Peterbilt 379, a commercial truck, was in need of repair. To cover the cost, Cowen borrowed money from Defendant WD Equipment, which is owned and managed by Defendant Aaron Williams, in exchange for a lien on the truck and the promise of repayment. After the Peterbilt broke down again only a few weeks after the repairs, it was towed to a local repair company, which estimated that fixing the truck again would cost more than Cowen could afford. Because his Peterbilt was in the shop, Cowen could not make installment payments to WD Equipment. So, in early August, 2013, Cowen began taking steps to refinance the loan. Williams gave Cowen several, contradictory responses as to how much Cowen would need to pay to settle the debt, and he accelerated the payoff date several times, before ultimately setting a deadline. Around the same time, Cowen defaulted on another loan secured by another one of his trucks, a 2006 Kenworth T600. This loan was owed to Defendant Bert Dring, the father-in-law of Williams, who held a purchase-money security interest in the truck. Dring lured Cowen under false pretenses to his place of business to repossess the Kenworth. Cowen filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code on the day of the deadline for paying off the Peterbilt, and which was within the ten-day cure period for the Kenworth. He notified Defendants of the filing and requested the immediate return of both trucks. But Defendants refused. Cowen moved the bankruptcy court for orders to show cause why Defendants should not be held in contempt for willful violations of the automatic stay. The bankruptcy court granted the motions and ordered Defendants to “immediately turn over” the trucks to Cowen. When Defendants did not comply with the bankruptcy court’s turnover order, Cowen filed an adversary proceeding for violations of the automatic stay. A few months later, the bankruptcy court dismissed the underlying bankruptcy case because, without the trucks, Cowen had no regular income, which rendered him ineligible for Chapter 13 relief. However, the bankruptcy court expressly retained jurisdiction over the adversary proceeding. During the adversary proceeding, Defendants again asserted that Cowen’s rights in the trucks had been properly terminated by Defendants before the bankruptcy petition was filed, and so they could not have violated the automatic stay. The court disagreed, and Defendants timely appealed this decision to the district court, which reversed on the calculation of damages but otherwise affirmed the bankruptcy court’s order. Defendants then appealed to the Tenth Circuit, arguing, among other things, that the bankruptcy court exceeded its jurisdiction, that it lacked constitutional authority to enter a final judgment in this adversary proceeding, and that the bankruptcy court misinterpreted section 362 (the automatic stay provision). The Tenth Circuit agreed, reversed and remanded. View "WD Equipment v. Cowen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy, Contracts