Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
McAnulty v. McAnulty, et al.
Husband Steven McAnulty was married twice: once to Plaintiff Elizabeth McAnulty, and once to Defendant Melanie McAnulty. Husband's first marriage ended in divorce; the second ended with his death. Husband’s only life-insurance policy (the Policy) named Defendant as the beneficiary. But the Missouri divorce decree between Plaintiff and Husband required Husband to procure and maintain a $100,000 life-insurance policy with Plaintiff listed as sole beneficiary until his maintenance obligation to her was lawfully terminated (which never happened). Plaintiff sued Defendant and the issuer of the Policy, Standard Insurance Company (Standard), claiming unjust enrichment and seeking the imposition on her behalf of a constructive trust on $100,000 of the insurance proceeds. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff appealed. By stipulation of the parties, Standard was dismissed with respect to this appeal. The only question to be resolved was whether Plaintiff stated a claim. Resolving that issue required the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to predict whether the Colorado Supreme Court would endorse Illustration 26 in Comment g to § 48 of the Restatement (Third) of Restitution and Unjust Enrichment (Am. L. Inst. 2011) (the Restatement (Third)), which would recognize a cause of action in essentially the same circumstances. Because the Tenth Circuit predicted the Colorado Supreme Court would endorse Illustration 26, the Court held Plaintiff has stated a claim of unjust enrichment, and accordingly reversed the previous dismissal of her case. View "McAnulty v. McAnulty, et al." on Justia Law
Ceska Zbrojovka Defence SE ("CZ") v. Vista Outdoor
Ceska zbrojovka Defence SE (“CZ Czech”) was a firearms manufacturer based in the Czech Republic. To do business in the United States, it had several subsidiaries, including CZ USA, CZ Czech’s Kansas-based subsidiary. Vista Outdoor, Inc. was a Minnesota company that designed, manufactured, and marketed outdoor recreation and shooting products. In November 2018, Vista and CZ Czech entered into an expense reimbursement agreement covering CZ Czech’s potential acquisition of a Vista firearm brand. Under the contract, Vista was obligated to reimburse CZ Czech for certain reasonable expenses in connection with its evaluation and negotiation of the proposed transaction. Even though the sale was not consummated, Vista refused CZ Czech’s subsequent reimbursement demands. CZ USA, not CZ Czech, filed a federal diversity action in the District of Kansas against Vista for breach of contract. The "twist" was that there was no contract between CZ USA and Vista, nor was CZ USA a beneficiary of the contract. CZ Czech, soon realizing the mistake, attempted to amend the complaint under Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and substitute itself as the party-plaintiff. The district court declined, finding that the original complaint controlled and that CZ USA, as a non-party to the contract, lacked standing to sue, meaning the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute. To this, the Tenth Circuit concurred and affirmed: the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction and correctly dismissed the lawsuit. View "Ceska Zbrojovka Defence SE ("CZ") v. Vista Outdoor" on Justia Law
Kazi, et al. v. KFC US
Plaintiff Zubair Kazi, through co-plaintiff KFC of Pueblo, Inc., owned the only Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Pueblo, Colorado. In 2019 Defendant KFC US, LLC licensed a second Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Pueblo. Kazi believed that KFC acted improperly in how it went about licensing this second restaurant and sued KFC for breach of contract, bad faith (breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing), promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment. His lawsuit went to trial on his bad-faith claim only, and the jury found in his favor. KFC appealed. The Tenth Circuit held that Kazi’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing was barred by Kentucky law because KFC’s alleged bad faith did not undermine any benefit or protection afforded to Kazi by his franchise agreement with KFC. The court therefore vacated the judgment and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of KFC and against Kazi and KFC of Pueblo, Inc. View "Kazi, et al. v. KFC US" on Justia Law
Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas v. PHL Variable Insurance Company
In 2007, Defendant PHL Variable Insurance Company issued two life-insurance policies to Plaintiff Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas, Inc. on the lives of Elwyn Liebl and John Killeen. Both policies guaranteed Plaintiff, as their named beneficiary, $400,000 upon the insureds’ death. Between 2013 and 2014, Defendant sent Plaintiff grace notices for both policies and demanded premium payments. Plaintiff believed the demanded premium payments were too high and that the grace notices were defective and untimely under the policies. So Plaintiff did not pay the requested premiums. Because Plaintiff did not pay the requested premiums, Defendant sent cancellation notices, informing Plaintiff that both policies had lapsed. In 2016, the insureds died. Plaintiff sought payment of benefits under both policies. Defendant declined, believing that it terminated Plaintiff’s policies for nonpayment of premiums two to three years earlier. In 2020, Plaintiff sued Defendant in the District of Kansas for failure to pay the death benefits under both policies. Defendant moved to dismiss both claims, arguing that Kansas’s five-year statute of limitations for breach of contract actions bars them. According to Defendant, the statute of limitations began to run in 2013 and 2014 when it informed Plaintiff that it was terminating the policies. In response, Plaintiff asserted that Defendant first breached both insurance contracts when it failed to pay the benefits upon the insureds’ death in 2016 because Defendant never successfully terminated the policies. The district court agreed with Defendant and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims as untimely. The appeal this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on a question of when the statute of limitations for a breach of contract claim alleging the wrongful termination of a life insurance contract began to run under Kansas law: if the limitations period began when Defendant acted to terminate Plaintiff’s policies, the district court correctly dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint; if the limitations period began when Plaintiff’s death benefits became due, the district court erred. Finding the district court did not err in dismissing Plaintiff's claims, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas v. PHL Variable Insurance Company" on Justia Law
McAuliffe, et al. v. Vail Corporation
In March 2020, The Vail Corporation and Vail Resorts, Inc. (collectively, “Vail”) closed its ski resorts and did not reopen them until the start of the 2020–2021 ski season. Plaintiffs-Appellants (“Passholders”) were a group of skiers and snowboarders who purchased season passes from Vail to access its resorts during the 2019–2020 ski season. Passholders, on behalf of themselves and a class of similarly situated individuals, brought contractual, quasi-contractual, and state consumer protection law claims based on Vail’s decision to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic without issuing refunds to Passholders. The district court granted Vail’s Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss all of Passholders’ claims for failure to state a claim. Passholders appealed, arguing the district court erred in its interpretation of their contracts with Vail. Although it did not agree with the district court’s interpretation of “2019–2020 ski season,” the Tenth Circuit concurred with the ultimate conclusion that Passholders failed to state a contractual claim. Passholders sought only one form of relief in their complaint, but they purchased passes under the condition that the passes were not eligible for refunds of any kind. Recognizing that Passholders might amend their breach of contract and breach of warranty claims to seek other forms of relief, the Tenth Circuit vacated the dismissal of these two claims with prejudice and remanded for the district court to modify its judgment to a dismissal without prejudice. As with Passholders’ breach of contract and breach of warranty claims, the Court concluded the district court correctly dismissed Passholders’ consumer protection claims. Recognizing Passholders could refile these claims to seek an alternative remedy, the Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal of Passholders’ state consumer protection law claims with prejudice so the district court could modify its dismissal of these six claims to be without prejudice. View "McAuliffe, et al. v. Vail Corporation" on Justia Law
Safeway Stores v. WY Plaza
This appeal grew out of overpayments that lessee, Safeway Stores 46, Inc., made to its lessor, WY Plaza, L.C. The lease allowed Safeway to deduct construction costs from the payments to WY Plaza. But Safeway neglected to make these deductions for twelve years before demanding repayment. WY Plaza rejected the demand based on Safeway’s delay. Safeway responded by paying under protest and suing for restitution and a declaratory judgment. Both parties sought summary judgment. In its own motion, WY Plaza denied the availability of restitution because the parties’ obligations had been set out in a written contract. The district court agreed with WY Plaza. But the court went further, deciding sua sponte that Safeway’s delay prevented recovery under the doctrine of laches. So the court granted summary judgment to WY Plaza and denied Safeway’s motion. The Tenth Circuit disagreed as to both trial court rulings. Despite the lack of any laches argument in its motion, the district court relied on laches to grant summary judgment to WY Plaza on the claim for declaratory relief. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously failed to notify Safeway before granting summary judgment to WY Plaza based on laches. Furthermore, the Tenth Circuit found that in granting WY Plaza’s motion for summary judgment, the district court relied on arguments that WY Plaza hadn’t raised. The district court also erroneously granted summary judgment to WY Plaza on the restitution claim: "The unilateral nature of Safeway’s mistake doesn’t prevent restitution." The Tenth Circuit held Safeway was entitled to summary judgment because WY Plaza failed to create a triable fact-issue, and Safeway was entitled to summary judgment on its claims for a declaratory judgment and restitution. View "Safeway Stores v. WY Plaza" on Justia Law
Evanston Insurance Company v. Desert State Life Management, et al.
Evanston Insurance Company appealed the judgment following a bench trial on an insurance-coverage dispute. After determining that Evanston failed to timely rescind the policy and that a policy exclusion did not apply, the district court required Evanston to continue defending Desert State Life Management against a class action arising from its former CEO’s embezzlement scheme. Though the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that rescission was untimely, it disagreed about the likely application of New Mexico law on applying policy exclusions. Judgment was thus affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Evanston Insurance Company v. Desert State Life Management, et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Heath, et al.
Defendants Michael and Dawn Heath sold Plaintiff Harry Johnson a gasoline and automobile-service station in Wells, Nevada. Soon after the sale, Plaintiff allegedly discovered that the property had material, undisclosed defects and that Defendants had artificially inflated the business’s profits by scamming customers over the years. In suing them, Plaintiff asserted many state-law claims against both Defendants and a claim against Defendant Michael Heath under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s RICO claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state claims. The issue Plaintiff's appeal raised for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether Defendants’ actions as alleged plausibly violated the federal RICO statute. Because the Court concluded they did not, it affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Johnson v. Heath, et al." on Justia Law
Wells Fargo Bank v. Stewart Title Guaranty Company
Wells Fargo Bank made a loan to Talisker Finance, Inc. Under the loan agreement, Talisker gave Wells Fargo a security interest in three parcels of land owned by Talisker’s affiliates. To ensure that Talisker’s affiliates had good title to the parcels, Wells Fargo bought title insurance from Stewart Title Guaranty Company. Talisker defaulted, but it couldn’t deliver good title to part of the land promised as collateral. The default triggered Wells Fargo’s right to compensation under the title insurance policy. Under that policy, Stewart owed Wells Fargo for the diminution in the value of the collateral. But the amount of the diminution was complicated by the presence of multiple parcels. The district court concluded that the lost parcel didn’t affect the value of the other parcels. After review, the Tenth Circuit concurred: because their values remained constant, the district court properly found that the diminution was simply the value of the collateral that Talisker’s affiliates didn’t own. View "Wells Fargo Bank v. Stewart Title Guaranty Company" on Justia Law
Banner Bank v. Smith, et al.
Banner Bank (“Banner”) provided a multimillion-dollar loan to James and Loree Smith and their business entities. As collateral, James Smith pledged several properties. Banner later contracted to release Loree Smith from all actions associated with the loan. When the loan entered default, Banner named Loree in this diversity action to foreclose on the collateral, notwithstanding the release. Loree brought a successful breach of contract counterclaim and recovered attorneys’ fees through Utah’s bad-faith fee-shifting statute. Banner appealed, arguing that every prong of the bad-faith statute was not met and the fee award was unreasonable. Finding that the judgment was final, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals exercised jurisdiction, but did not reach any of Banner’s specific statutory arguments. The Court reversed the fee award because it found Section 78B-5-825 was a procedural attorneys’ fees statute, so it could not be used to recover fees when a federal court sat in diversity. View "Banner Bank v. Smith, et al." on Justia Law