Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant manufactures aloe vera gel, sold under its own brand and as private‐label versions. Suppliers harvest, fillet, and de-pulp aloe vera leaves. The resulting aloe is pasteurized, filtered, treated with preservatives, and dehydrated for shipping. Defendant reconstitutes the dehydrated aloe and adds stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives to make the product shelf‐stable. The products are 98% aloe gel and 2% other ingredients. Labels describe the product as aloe vera gel that can be used to treat dry, irritated, or sunburned skin. One label calls the product “100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel.” An asterisk leads to information on the back of the label: “Plus stabilizers and preservatives to insure [sic] potency and efficacy.” Each label contains an ingredient list showing aloe juice and other substances. Plaintiffs brought consumer deception claims, alleging that the products did not contain any aloe vera and lacked acemannan, a compound purportedly responsible for the plant’s therapeutic qualities. Discovery showed those allegations to be false. Plaintiffs changed their theory, claiming that the products were degraded and did not contain enough acemannan so that it was misleading to represent them as “100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel,” and to market the therapeutic effects associated with aloe vera. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. There was no evidence that some concentration of acemannan is necessary to call a product aloe or to produce a therapeutic effect, nor evidence that consumers care about acemannan concentration. View "Beardsall v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 1987, Whitaker opened commodity futures trading accounts that eventually were assigned to Wedbush. Whitaker did not enter into a new customer or security agreement with Wedbush. Wedbush held Whitaker’s funds in customer segregated accounts at BMO Harris, which provided an online portal for Wedbush to process its customers' wire transfers. In December 2014, Wedbush received emailed wire transfer requests purporting to be from Whitaker but actually sent by a hacker. Wedbush completed transfers to a bank in Poland totaling $374,960. Each time, Wedbush sent an acknowledgment to Whitaker’s e-mail account; the hacker apparently intercepted all email communications. Whitaker contacted Wedbush after receiving an account statement containing an incorrect balance. After Wedbush refused Whitaker’s demand for the return of the transferred funds, Whitaker filed suit seeking a refund under the UCC (810 ILCS 5/4A-101). The circuit court rejected the UCC counts, stating that Wedbush had not operated as a “bank” under the UCC definition. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, rejecting an argument that an entity may not qualify as a bank if it does not offer checking services. Courts construe the term “bank” in article 4A liberally to promote the purposes and policies of the UCC. The term “includes some institutions that are not commercial banks” and that “[t]he definition reflects the fact that many financial institutions now perform functions previously restricted to commercial banks, including acting on behalf of customers in funds transfers.” View "Whitaker v. Wedbush Securities, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2011 Wells Fargo entered into a loan and security agreement with hhgregg to provide the retailer with operating credit. Wells Fargo had a perfected first-priority, floating lien on nearly all of hhgregg’s assets. In 2017, hhgregg petitioned for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, owing Wells Fargo $66 million. Wells Fargo agreed to provide debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing in return for a priming, first-priority security interest on substantially all of hhgregg’s assets, including existing and after-acquired inventory and its proceeds. The bankruptcy judge approved the DIP financing agreement and the super-priority security interest. Whirlpool had long delivered home appliances to hhgregg on credit for resale. Three days after the approval of the DIP financing, Whirlpool sent a reclamation demand seeking the return of $16.3 million of unpaid inventory delivered during 45 days before the petition date and filed an adversary complaint, seeking a declaration that its reclamation claim was first in priority as to the reclaimed goods. Reorganization proved unsuccessful. The bankruptcy judge authorized hhgregg to sell its inventory—including the Whirlpool goods—in going-out-of-business sales and entered summary judgment for Wells Fargo. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Reclamation is a limited remedy that permits a seller to recover possession of goods delivered to an insolvent purchaser, subject to significant restrictions, 11 U.S.C. 546(c). A seller’s right to reclaim goods is “subject to the prior rights of a holder of a security interest in such goods or the proceeds thereof.” Whirlpool’s later-in-time reclamation demand is “subject to” Wells Fargo’s prior rights as a secured creditor; its reclamation claim is subordinate to the DIP financing lien. View "Whirlpool Corp. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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The San Francisco Examiner sued the San Francisco Chronicle, claiming that the defendant sold a certain type of print advertising in the Chronicle at prices that violated California’s Unfair Practices Act (UPA, Bus. & Prof. Code, 17000) and Unfair Competition Law (UCL, 17200). The trial court granted the defendant summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed. The trial court properly rejected the claim of below-cost sales under the UPA after excluding the opinion of the plaintiff’s expert on costs. The plaintiff had disclaimed reliance on specific transactions to prove the Chronicle’s alleged underpricing of its print advertising, leaving only the aggregate cost analysis prepared by that expert to establish the occurrence of alleged below-cost sales. The plaintiff’s expert lacked the foundational knowledge to conduct the requisite cost analysis and based his analysis on another individual’s non-UPA-related pricing analysis without understanding its foundations, such as some of the included cost components. Summary judgment was proper as to the claim for unlawful use or sale of loss leaders under the UPA because the plaintiff failed to identify the loss leader sales on which this claim was based. The trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on the causes of action for secret and unearned discounts under the UPA. View "San Francisco Print Media Co. v. The Hearst Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court's dismissal of Chris Hinrichs and Autovation Limited's (collectively, Hinrichs) common law misrepresentation claims against the DOW Chemical Company and reversing the circuit court's dismissal of Hinrichs' statutory claim under Wis. Stat. 100.18, holding that the court of appeals did not err. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that, with regard to Hinrichs' common law claims, neither the "fraud in the inducement" exception nor the "other property exception" to the economic loss doctrine applied to allow Hinrichs' common law claims to go forward. With regard to Hinrichs' statutory claims the Court held (1) the economic loss doctrine does not serve as a bar to claims made under section 100.18; (2) because one person can be "the public" for purposes of section 100.18(1), the court of appeals did not err in determining that dismissal for failure to meet "the public" factor of the section 100.18 claim was in error; and (3) the heightened pleading standard for claims of fraud does not apply to claims made under section 100.18 and that Hinrichs' complaint stated a claim under the general pleading standard. View "Hinrichs v. DOW Chemical Co." on Justia Law

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HomeBanc, in the residential mortgage loan business, obtained financing from Bear Stearns under 2005 repurchase agreements and transferred multiple securities to Bear Stearns. In 2007 HomeBanc failed to repurchase the securities or pay for an extension of the due date. Bear Stearns issued a notice of default. HomeBanc filed voluntary bankruptcy petitions. Bear Stearns, claiming outright ownership of the securities, auctioned them to determine their fair market value. After the auction closed, Bear Stearns’s finance desk determined that Bear Stearns’s mortgage trading desk had won. Bear Stearns allocated the $60.5 million bid across 36 securities. HomeBanc believed itself entitled to the August 2007 principal and interest payments from the securities. HomeBanc claimed conversion, breach of contract, and violation of the automatic bankruptcy stay. Following multiple rounds of litigation, the district court found that Bear Stearns acted reasonably and in good faith. The Third Circuit affirmed. A bankruptcy court’s determination of good faith regarding an obligatory post-default valuation of collateral subject to a repurchase agreement receives mixed review. Factual findings are reviewed for clear-error while the ultimate issue of good faith receives plenary review. Bear Stearns liquidated the securities at issue in good faith compliance with the Repurchasing Agreement. Bear Stearns never claimed damages; 11 U.S.C. 101(47)(A)(v) “damages,” which may trigger the requirements of 11 U.S.C. 562, require a non-breaching party to bring a legal claim for damages. The broader safe harbor protections of 11 U.S.C. 559 were relevant. View "Wells Fargo, N.A. v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Health benefit plans sued GSK, the manufacturer of the prescription drug Avandia, under state consumer-protection laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 (RICO), based on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as having benefits to justify its price, which was higher than the price of other drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes. The district court granted GSK summary judgment, finding that the state-law consumer-protection claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. ch. 9; the Plans had failed to identify a sufficient “enterprise” for purposes of RICO; and the Plans’ arguments related to GSK’s alleged attempts to market Avandia as providing cardiovascular “benefits” were “belated.” The Third Circuit reversed, applying the Supreme Court’s 2019 "Merck" decision. The state-law consumer-protection claims are not preempted by the FDCA. The Plans should have been given the opportunity to seek discovery before summary judgment on the RICO claims. Further, from the inception of this litigation, the Plans’ claims have centered on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as providing cardiovascular benefits as compared to other forms of treatment, so the district court’s refusal to consider the Plans’ “benefits” arguments was in error because those arguments were timely raised. View "In re: Avandia Marketing, Sales and Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Hong, the president of ENA, sought to open a restaurant with a license to serve beer and wine in a building owned by 524 Union, which had housed restaurants for many years. After leasing the premises, ENA was unable to open because the San Francisco Planning Department determined that an existing conditional use authorization for the property was no longer effective and a new one could not be granted. ENA sued the lessors, claiming false representations and failure to disclose material facts regarding the problems with the conditional use authorization. A jury awarded ENA compensatory and punitive damages. The court of appeal held that the jury’s verdict on liability, including liability for punitive damages, is supported by substantial evidence. Hong’s testimony was substantial evidence supporting the jury’s verdict. Additional support was provided by evidence of email correspondence around the time Hong entered the lease. The trial court employed an improper procedural mechanism in reducing the amount of the punitive damages award but the jury award was unsupported and Hong effectively stipulated to the reduced amount. View "ENA North Beach, Inc. v. 524 Union Street" on Justia Law

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In this litigation arising from a transaction in goods governed by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court order denying summary judgment, holding that there remained genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. An agreement governing the sale of forty dump trucks contained a warranty and a one-year limitations period for filing a breach of contract suit. Buyers sued for breach of warranty several years later. The Supreme Court held (1) under the express terms of their agreement, the parties contracted for a future-performance warranty, and any breach of warranty claims did not accrue until the buyers knew, or should have known, of the breach; (2) under the equitable estoppel doctrine, a party's conduct may toll a contractually agreed-upon limitations period; and (3) in the instant case, genuine issues of material fact remained relating to the above two issues, precluding summary judgment. View "Kenworth of Indianapolis, Inc. v. Seventy-Seven Limited" on Justia Law

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Symetra appealed a jury verdict in favor of FinServ and A.M.Y. in an action involving structured settlement payments Symetra owed to two individuals. Both payments were subject to security interests held by FinServ and A.M.Y. in all of Rapid and RSL-3B's then-owned and after-acquired property. The Fifth Circuit held that filing a financing statement does not provide actual notice. Without an inquiry duty, the court held that Symetra's failure to find the financing statement was not "actual notice." Because the facts presented did not support the conclusion of actual notice, the court held that the district court should have granted judgment in favor of Symetra as a matter of law, since Symetra did not receive notice that the payments were assigned to FinServ and A.M.Y. until 2012, after its offset rights accrued. Therefore, Symetra's defenses were not subordinated to the security interests held by FinServ and A.M.Y. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded, rendering judgment as a matter of law to Symetra. View "FinServ Casualty Corp. v. Symetra Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law