Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2016, Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), offered a bond swap whereby its noteholders could exchange unsecured notes due in 2017 for new, secured notes due in 2020. PDVSA defaulted in 2019, and the National Assembly of Venezuela passed a resolution declaring the bond swap a "national public contract" requiring its approval under Article 150 of the Venezuelan Constitution. PDVSA, along with its subsidiaries PDVSA Petróleo S.A. and PDV Holding, Inc., initiated a lawsuit seeking a judgment declaring the 2020 Notes and their governing documents "invalid, illegal, null, and void ab initio, and thus unenforceable." The case was taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which certified three questions to the New York Court of Appeals.The New York Court of Appeals, in answering the first question, ruled that Venezuelan law governs the validity of the notes under Uniform Commercial Code § 8-110 (a) (1), which encompasses plaintiffs' arguments concerning whether the issuance of the notes was duly authorized by the Venezuelan National Assembly under the Venezuelan Constitution. However, New York law governs the transaction in all other respects, including the consequences if a security was "issued with a defect going to its validity." Given the court's answer to the first certified question, it did not answer the remaining questions. View "Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. v MUFG Union Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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In a dispute between SmartSky Networks, LLC and DAG Wireless, Ltd., DAG Wireless USA, LLC, Laslo Gross, Susan Gross, Wireless Systems Solutions, LLC, and David D. Gross over alleged breach of contract, trade secret misappropriation, and deceptive trade practices, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the district court did not have the jurisdiction to enforce an arbitration award. Initially, the case was stayed by the district court pending arbitration. The arbitration tribunal found in favor of SmartSky and issued an award, which SmartSky sought to enforce in district court. The defendants-appellants argued that, based on the Supreme Court decision in Badgerow v. Walters, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enforce the arbitration award. The Fourth Circuit agreed, noting that a court must have a basis for subject matter jurisdiction independent from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and apparent on the face of the application to enforce or vacate an arbitration award. The court concluded that the district court did not have an independent basis of subject matter jurisdiction to confirm the arbitration award. As such, the court reversed and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Smartsky Networks, LLC v. DAG Wireless, LTD." on Justia Law

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In this case, Southwest Airlines filed a suit against Liberty Insurance Underwriters for denial of a claim for reimbursement under its cyber risk insurance policy after a massive computer failure. This computer failure resulted in flight delays and cancellations, causing Southwest to incur over $77 million in losses. Southwest claimed these losses under their insurance policy, but Liberty denied the claim, arguing that the costs incurred by Southwest were discretionary and either not covered under the policy or excluded by certain policy clauses.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit disagreed with the lower court's decision to grant summary judgment for Liberty. The court concluded that the costs incurred by Southwest due to the system failure were not categorically barred from coverage as a matter of law. The court found that Southwest's five categories of costs satisfied the policy's causation standard and were thus "losses" that it "incurred."The court also concluded that the district court erred in finding that the claimed costs were consequential damages excluded from coverage and that the term "third parties" did not apply to Southwest’s customers and did not preclude costs related to Southwest’s payments to its customers.The court reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Southwest Airlines v. Liberty Insurance" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of North Carolina was required to decide whether a trial court can refuse to hear oral testimony during a summary judgment hearing on the mistaken belief that the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure prohibit the receipt of such testimony. The plaintiff, a corporation, had sued the defendants for breach of a commercial lease, and the defendants counterclaimed for fraud. During the summary judgment hearing, the trial court declined a request by the defendants to introduce live testimony, asserting that it was not permitted during a summary judgment hearing. The defendants appealed, and the Court of Appeals vacated the trial court's summary judgment order and remanded the case, leading to this appeal.The Supreme Court of North Carolina held that a trial court errs if it fails to exercise its discretion under the misapprehension that it has no such discretion, referring to Rule 43(e) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure that allows for the introduction of live oral testimony during a summary judgment hearing at the discretion of the trial court. The court found that the trial court was mistaken in its belief that it could not allow oral testimony, and this error warranted vacatur and remand for reconsideration. The Supreme Court thereby modified and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals to vacate the trial court's summary judgment order and remand the case. View "D.V. Shah Corp. v. VroomBrands, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case between Norfolk Southern Railway Company and Zayo Group, LLC, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment on the pleadings. The dispute arose from a lease agreement between the parties, in which Zayo leased a utility duct from Norfolk Southern. When the time came to renew the lease, the parties could not agree on the renewal rent and referred the dispute to three appraisers, as specified in the lease. The appraisers decided the rent by a two-to-one vote, but Zayo refused to pay the rent, arguing that the decision was not unanimous. Norfolk Southern sued for breach of the lease, and the district court entered judgment for Norfolk Southern, ordering Zayo to pay the rental amount determined by the appraisers. Zayo appealed, contending that the appraisers could determine the rent only by unanimous vote. The Fourth Circuit held that the lease's language was unambiguous and did not impose a unanimity requirement on the appraisers. Therefore, it found that Zayo breached the lease by refusing to pay the full amount determined by the appraisers. The court affirmed the district court's judgment, requiring Zayo to pay the rental amount determined by the appraisers. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Zayo Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act requires any tobacco product not on the market before February 15, 2007, to receive FDA approval, 21 U.S.C. 387j(a)(1)–(2). Only if the FDA concludes that “permitting such tobacco product to be marketed would be appropriate for the protection of the public health” can the product be approved. Manufacturers seeking advance permission to market new products. In 2020, the FDA began taking aggressive action to remove fruit- and dessert-flavored e-cigarettes (electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)) from the market, leaving aside tobacco- and menthol-flavored ENDS. More recently, based on additional studies and market data, the FDA has denied the applications of importers and manufacturers to market menthol-flavored ENDS.An importer challenged that denial, arguing that it was arbitrary and capricious for the FDA to apply the same regulatory framework to menthol that it used to assess the appropriateness of sweeter flavors, to ultimately reject its applications for its menthol-flavored ENDS to remain on the market, and to do so without granting a transition period. The Third Circuit denied a petition for review. The FDA applied a regulatory framework consistent with its statutory mandate, provided a reasoned explanation for its denial, and based its decision on scientific judgments that courts may not second-guess. View "Logic Technology Development LLC v. United States Food and Drug Administration" on Justia Law

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When an armed fugitive held a 15-year-old girl hostage inside Plaintiff, City of McKinney (the “City”), police officers employed armored vehicles, explosives, and toxic-gas grenades to resolve the situation. The parties agree the officers only did what was necessary in an active emergency. However, Plaintiff’s home suffered severe damage, much of her personal property was destroyed, and the City refused to provide compensation. Plaintiff brought suit in federal court alleging a violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that private property shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The district court held that, as a matter of law, the City violated the Takings Clause when it refused to compensate Baker for the damage and destruction of her property. The City timely appealed.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court explained that as a matter of history and precedent, the Takings Clause does not require compensation for damaged or destroyed property when it was objectively necessary for officers to damage or destroy that property in an active emergency to prevent imminent harm to persons. Plaintiff has maintained that the officers’ actions were precisely that: necessary, in light of an active emergency, to prevent imminent harm to the hostage child, to the officers who responded on the scene, and to others in her residential community. View "Baker v. City of McKinney" on Justia Law

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Venequip, a Venezuelan heavy-equipment supplier, sold and serviced products made by Illinois-based Caterpillar. Venequip’s dealership was governed by sales and service agreements with CAT Sàrl, Caterpillar’s Swiss subsidiary. In 2019 CAT Sàrl terminated the dealership. The contracts contain clauses that direct all disputes to Swiss courts for resolution under Swiss law. In 2021 Venequip brought contract claims against CAT Sàrl in Geneva, Switzerland. Venequip filed applications across the United States seeking discovery from Caterpillar and its employees, dealers, and customers under 28 U.S.C. 1782(a), which authorizes (but does not require) district courts to order any person who resides or is found in the district to give testimony or produce documents “for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” Venequip’s Northern District of Illinois application sought wide-ranging discovery from Caterpillar.Ruling on Venequip’s application, the district judge addressed four factors identified by the Supreme Court (Intel) that generally concern the applicant’s need for discovery, the intrusiveness of the request, and comity considerations, and added the parties’ contractual choice of forum and law and Caterpillar’s agreement to provide discovery in the Swiss court, then denied the application. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The appeal was not mooted by intervening developments in the Swiss court. The judge appropriately weighed the Intel factors and other permissible considerations. View "Venequip, S.A. v. Caterpillar Inc." on Justia Law

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Since 1992, the Energy Star Program has set energy efficiency standards for categories of products and permitted approved products to bear the Energy Star logo. Three models of Whirlpool top-loading clothes washers were approved to display that logo and did so from 2009-2010. Under one method of measurement, those machines did not meet the Program’s energy- and water-efficiency standards; the washers did satisfy the Program’s standards under another measurement technique, which the Program previously endorsed. Program guidance from July 2010 disapproved of that method.Consumers in several states who had purchased those models commenced a putative class action against Whirlpool and retailers that sold those machines, alleging breach of express warranty and violations of state consumer protection statutes based on the allegedly wrongful display of the Energy Star logo. The district court certified a class action against Whirlpool but declined to certify a class against the retailers. At summary judgment, the court rejected all remaining claims.The Third Circuit affirmed, finding no genuine dispute of material fact. The plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the models were unfit for their intended purpose. A reasonable jury could not find that the retailer defendants were unjustly enriched from selling the washers. Without evidence of a false or misleading statement attributable to Whirlpool or the retailers, the state consumer protection claims failed. View "Dzielak v. Whirlpool Corp" on Justia Law

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Russell is an orthopedic trauma surgeon who invented numerous products such as bone substitutes and surgical devices. He, along with other inventors were shareholders in CelgenTek, a medical device firm. According to the Inventors, Russell’s creations were game-changers in the field of orthopedics. In 2015, the Inventors entered into an agreement with Zimmer as the exclusive distributor of certain CelgenTek products. CelgenTek was experiencing dire financial problems. Zimmer acquired a 10% ownership of CelgenTek for $2 million and purchased the remaining 90% in 2016. The Inventors retained the right to a small percent of the net yield on the products it developed (earnout products). Zimmer agreed that it would use “Commercially Reasonable Efforts,” as defined in the Agreement, to sell the earnout products. From the date the agreement through 2019, Zimmer paid the Inventors approximately $130,000 in earnout payments. The Inventors sued, alleging that Zimmer failed to use Commercially Reasonable Efforts.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the Inventors failed to state a claim. Many of Zimmer's 21 complained-of actions and inactions reflect how the Inventors hoped Zimmer would have marketed and sold the earnout products or what the Inventors would have done had they not put Zimmer in charge of sales. Others allege broken promises that Zimmer purportedly made before the signing of the agreement that are not actionable due to the agreement’s integration clause. View "Russell v. Zimmer, Inc." on Justia Law