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In 2010, BRC and Continental entered into a five‐year agreement. Continental was to sell to BRC approximately 1.8 million pounds of prime carbon black, annually, in approximately equal monthly quantities, with baseline prices for three grades, including N762, “to remain firm throughout the term.” Continental could meet any better offers that BRC received. Shipments continued regularly until March 2011, when demand began to exceed Continental’s production ability. Continental notified its buyers that N762 would be unavailable in May. BRC nonetheless placed an order. The parties dispute the nature of subsequent communications. Continental neither confirmed BRC’s order nor shipped N762. BRC demanded immediate shipment. Continental responded that it did “not have N762 available.” BRC purchased some N762 from another supplier at a higher price. Days later, Continental offered to ship N762 at price increases, which BRC refused to pay. After discussions, Continental sent an email stating that Continental would continue "shipping timely at the contract prices, and would not cut off supply” and would “ship one car next week.” Continental emphasized that the Agreement required it to supply about 150,000 pounds per month and that it already had shipped approximately 300,000 pounds per month. Continental shipped one railcar. Within a week, Continental emailed BRC seeking to increase the baseline prices and to accelerate payment terms. BRC sued, seeking its costs in purchasing from another supplier following Continental’s alleged repudiation. The Seventh Circuit rejected the characterization of the agreement as a requirements contract. On remand, BRC, without amending its complaint, pursued the alternative theory that the agreement is for a fixed-amount supply. The Seventh Circuit reversed summary judgment and remanded, finding the agreement, supported by mutuality and consideration, enforceable. The agreement imposed sufficiently definite obligations on both parties and was not an unenforceable "buyer's option." BRC can proceed in characterizing the contract as for a fixed amount. BRC altered only its legal characterization; its factual theory remained constant and Continental is not prejudiced by the change. View "BRC Rubber & Plastics, Inc. v. Continental Carbon Co." on Justia Law

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Littlejohn sought to sue Costco, the California Board of Equalization, and Abbott to recover sales tax on purchases of Abbott’s product Ensure. Littlejohn alleged that Ensure is properly categorized as a food; no sales tax was actually due on his purchases; Costco was under no obligation to pay and should not have paid sales tax on its sales of Ensure. The complaint alleged that during the period in question Ensure was classified as a food product exempt from sales tax, not a nutritional supplement. Littlejohn based his claim on a 1974 California Supreme Court decision, Javor. The trial court concluded that the judicially noticed documents in the record showed the Board had not resolved the question of whether Ensure was nontaxable during the relevant period.. The court held that the documents were entitled to deference, but did not have the same force of law as Board regulations and were not binding. The court of appeal affirmed, reasoning that the case does not involve allegations of unique circumstances showing the Board has concluded consumers are owed refunds for taxes paid on sales of Ensure. A Javor remedy should be limited to the unique circumstances where the plaintiff shows that the state has been unjustly enriched by the overpayment of sales tax, and the Board concurs that the circumstances warrant refunds. View "Littlejohn v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law

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The Amex credit card companies use a two-sided transaction platform to serve cardholders and merchants. Unlike traditional markets, two-sided platforms exhibit “indirect network effects,” because the value of the platform to one group depends on how many members of another group participate. Two-sided platforms must take these effects into account before making a change in price on either side, or they risk creating a feedback loop of declining demand. Visa and MasterCard have structural advantages over Amex. Amex focuses on cardholder spending rather than cardholder lending. To encourage cardholder spending, Amex provides better rewards than the other credit-card companies. Amex continually invests in its cardholder rewards program and must charge merchants higher fees than its rivals. To avoid higher fees, merchants sometimes attempt to dissuade cardholders from using Amex cards (steering). Amex places anti-steering provisions in its contracts with merchants. The Supreme Court affirmed the Second Circuit in rejecting claims that Amex violated section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits "unreasonable restraints” of trade. Applying the "rule of reason" three-step burden-shifting framework, the Court concluded the plaintiffs did not establish that Amex’s anti-steering provisions have a substantial anticompetitive effect that harms consumers in the relevant market. Evidence of a price increase on one side of a two-sided transaction platform cannot, by itself, demonstrate an anticompetitive exercise of market power; plaintiffs must prove that Amex’s anti-steering provisions increased the cost of credit-card transactions above a competitive level, reduced the number of credit-card transactions, or otherwise stifled competition. They offered no evidence that the price of credit-card transactions was higher than the price one would expect in a competitive market. Amex’s increased merchant fees reflect increases in the value of its services and the cost of its transactions, not an ability to charge above a competitive price. The Court noted that Visa and MasterCard’s merchant fees have continued to increase, even where Amex is not accepted. The market actually experienced expanding output and improved quality. View "Ohio v. American Express Co." on Justia Law

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Defendants are the nation’s largest distributors of pre-filled propane exchange tanks, which come in a standard size. Before 2008, Defendants filled the tanks with 17 pounds of propane. In 2008, due to rising prices, Defendants reduced the amount in each tato 15 pounds, maintaining the same price. Plaintiffs, indirect purchasers, who bought tanks from retailers, claimed this effectively raised the price. In 2009, plaintiffs filed a class action alleging conspiracy under the Sherman Act. Plaintiffs settled with both Defendants. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission issued a complaint against Defendants, which settled in 2015 by consent orders, for conspiring to artificially inflate tank prices. In 2014, another group of indirect purchasers (Ortiz) brought a class action against Defendants, alleging: “Despite their settlements, Defendants continued to conspire, and ... maintained their illegally agreed-upon fill levels, preserving the unlawfully inflated prices." The Ortiz suit became part of a multidistrict proceeding that included similar allegations by direct purchasers (who bought tanks directly from Defendants for resale). The Eighth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the direct-purchaser suit as time-barred, holding that each sale in a price-fixing conspiracy starts the statutory period running again. The court subsequently held that the indirect purchasers inadequately pled an injury-in-fact and lack standing to pursue an injunction to increase the fill levels of the tanks and may not seek disgorgement of profits. View "Ortiz v. Ferrellgas Partners, L.P." on Justia Law

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Many states tax the retail sales of goods and services in the state. Sellers are required to collect and remit the tax; if they do not in-state consumers are responsible for paying a use tax at the same rate. Under earlier Supreme Court decisions, states could not require a business that had no physical presence in the state to collect its sales tax. Consumer compliance rates are low; it is estimated that South Dakota lost $48-$58 million annually. South Dakota enacted a law requiring out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax, covering only sellers that annually deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the state or engage in 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the state. State courts found the Act unconstitutional. The Supreme Court vacated, overruling the physical presence rule established by its decisions in Quill (1992), and National Bellas Hess (1967). That rule gave out-of-state sellers an advantage and each year becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the states. A business need not have a physical presence in a state to satisfy the demands of due process. The Commerce Clause requires “a sensitive, case-by-case analysis of purposes and effects,” to protect against any undue burden on interstate commerce, taking into consideration the small businesses, startups, or others who engage in commerce across state lines. Without the physical presence test, the first inquiry is whether the tax applies to an activity with a substantial nexus with the taxing state. Here, the nexus is sufficient. Any remaining Commerce Clause concerns may be addressed on remand. View "South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2003, Pain Center contracted with SSIMED for medical-billing software and related services. In 2006, the parties entered into another contract, for records-management software and related services. In 2013, Pain Center sued SSIMED for breach of contract, breach of warranty, breach of the implied duty of good faith, and four tort claims, all arising out of alleged shortcomings in SSIMED’s software and services. The district judge found the entire suit untimely. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on all but the claims for breach of contract. The judge applied the four-year statute of limitations under Indiana’s Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), holding that the two agreements are mixed contracts for goods and services, but the goods (i.e., the software) predominate. The Seventh Circuit disagreed. Under Indiana’s “predominant thrust” test for mixed contracts, the agreements in question fall on the “services” side of the line, so the UCC does not apply. The breach-of-contract claims are subject to Indiana’s 10-year statute of limitations for written contracts and are timely. Pain Center licensed SSIMED’s preexisting, standardized software but received monthly billing and IT services for the life of both contracts. View "Pain Center of SE Indiana, LLC v. Origin Healthcare Solutions LLC" on Justia Law

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At issue was how to calculate “fair market value” of a repossessed automobile under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 255B, 20 B and the notices that are required with respect to this calculation. Under section 20B, a creditor who repossesses and sells a vehicle is entitled to recover form the debt the deficiency that remains after deducting the “fair market value” of the vehicle from the debtor’s unpaid balance. Plaintiff in this case alleged that the fair market value of her repossessed automobile was the fair market retail value of the automobile, rather than the amount paid at an auction open to licensed dealers. The federal district court granted summary judgment to American Honda Finance Corporation (Honda). The court of appeals certified to the Supreme Judicial Court three questions. The Court answered (1) the ultimate determination of fair market value is left to the courts in contested cases, taking into account both creditor and debtor interests, and the means, methods, and markets used to sell the vehicle; and (2) the resale and postsale notices provided to the debtor must expressly describe the deficiency as the difference between the amount owed on the loan and the fair market value of the vehicle. View "Williams v. American Honda Finance Corp." on Justia Law

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A trial court’s authority to distinguish between genuine and non-genuine fact issues includes the authority to apply the so-called “sham affidavit rule” when confronted with evidence that appears to be a sham designed to avoid summary judgment. Under the sham affidavit rule, if a party submits an affidavit that conflicts with the affiant’s prior sworn testimony and does not provide a sufficient explanation for the conflict, a trial court may disregard the affidavit when deciding whether the party has raised a genuine fact issue to avoid summary judgment. In this commercial dispute, the trial court struck an affidavit as a sham under the rule and granted partial summary judgment. A divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed and adopted the sham affidavit doctrine, which had not previously been explicitly recognized by the court of appeals. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision as to the partial summary judgment grant, as the trial court properly concluded that the affidavit in question did not raise a genuine fact issue sufficient to survive summary judgment. The Court then remanded to the court of appeals to consider whether any claims remained unresolved. View "Lujan v. Navistar, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2017, Maryland enacted “An Act concerning Public Health – Essential Off-Patent or Generic Drugs – Price Gouging – Prohibition.” The Act, Md. Code, Health–General 2-802(a), prohibits manufacturers or wholesale distributors from “engag[ing] in price gouging in the sale of an essential off-patent or generic drug,” defines “price gouging” as “an unconscionable increase in the price of a prescription drug,” and “unconscionable increase” as “excessive and not justified by the cost of producing the drug or the cost of appropriate expansion of access to the drug to promote public health” that results in consumers having no meaningful choice about whether to purchase the drug at an excessive price due to the drug’s importance to their health and insufficient competition. The “essential” medications are “made available for sale in [Maryland]” and either appear on the Model List of Essential Medicines most recently adopted by the World Health Organization or are “designated . . . as an essential medicine due to [their] efficacy in treating a life-threatening health condition or a chronic health condition that substantially impairs an individual’s ability to engage in activities of daily living.” The Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a “dormant commerce clause” challenge to the Act, finding that it directly regulates the price of transactions that occur outside Maryland. View "Association for Accessible Medicine v. Frosh" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Singaporean shipping company, entered into shipping contracts with an Indian mining company. The Indian company breached those contracts. Plaintiff believes that American businesses that were the largest stockholders in the Indian company engaged in racketeering activity to divest the Indian company of assets to thwart its attempts to recover damages for the breach. Plaintiff filed suit under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1964(c). While the case was pending, the Supreme Court decided RJR Nabisco v. European Community, holding that “[a] private RICO plaintiff … must allege and prove a domestic injury to its business or property.” The district court granted the American defendants judgment on the RICO claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiff’s claimed injury—harm to its ability to collect on its judgment and other claims—was economic; economic injuries are felt at a corporation’s principal place of business, and Plaintiff’s principal place of business is in Singapore. The court noted that the district court allowed a maritime fraudulent transfer claim to go forward. View "Armada (Singapore) PTE Ltd. v. Amcol International Corp." on Justia Law