Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

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The Coalition, an association of franchised New Jersey new car dealerships, filed suit under the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act on behalf of 16 Mazda dealer-members. Mazda had an incentive program for its franchised dealers (MBEP), which provides incentives, per-vehicle discounts or rebates on the dealers’ purchases of vehicles from Mazda, to dealers who make certain investments in their physical facilities that highlight their sale of Mazda vehicles or dedicate their dealerships exclusively to the sale of Mazda vehicles. The incentives come in different tiers, with the highest tier available to dealers who have exclusive Mazda facilities and a dedicated, exclusive Mazda general manager. Mazda dealers also earn incentives if they meet customer experience metrics. Mazda dealers who sell other brands of vehicles as well as Mazdas, do not receive incentives for brand commitment. Only three of the 16 Mazda dealers in the Coalition qualified for the highest tier; eight others qualified for some tier of incentives. The complaint alleged that the MBEP creates unfair competitive advantages for dealers who qualify for incentives under the MBEP at the expense of those dealers who do not, and even among incentivized dealers through different tiers. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case, rejecting as too narrow the district court’s rationale--that the Coalition lacked standing because only five of the 16 Mazda dealers would benefit from the lawsuit, so the Coalition cannot possibly be protecting the interests of its members. View "New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, Inc. v. Mazda Motor of America Inc" on Justia Law

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In this dispute between a secured lender (Bank) and a grain elevator (Elevator) the Supreme Court reversed in part the district court's judgment in favor of the Bank, holding that the district court erred by applying the discovery rule but otherwise did not err. The Bank filed this civil action alleging damages for drying and storage charges withheld in a three-year period. The Bank asserted that the Elevator had a junior interest to the Bank's prior perfected security interests. The Elevator asserted affirmative defenses of, among other things, failure to state a claim and unjust enrichment. The district court granted the Bank's motion for summary judgment and denied the Elevator's motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) correctly applied the two-year limitation period in Iowa Code 614.1(10), which barred the Bank's claims filed more than two years from the date of sale of goods subject to its perfected security interest; (2) erred by applying the discovery rule allowing the Bank to recover on transactions that occurred more than two years before it filed its civil action; and (3) correctly ruled that the Bank's prior perfected security interest trumped the Elevator's claim for storage and drying costs. View "MidWestOne Bank v. Heartland Co-op" on Justia Law

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In this case, a byproduct of litigation stemming from the derailment of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, Ltd. (MMA) freight train carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the First Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of judgment in favor of Robert Keath, the estate representative of MMA, and against creditor Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Company, holding that, giving due deference to the fact-finder's resolution of the burden of proof, the judgment must be affirmed. One month after the derailment, MMA filed a voluntary petition for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Wheeling instituted an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court against MMA and the estate representative, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the existence and priority of its security interest in certain property of the MMA estate. The case involved intricate questions concerning secured transactions, carriage of goods, and corporate reorganization. After a settlement, the bankruptcy court ruled in favor of the estate representative. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) ultimately, this case turned on principals relating to the allocation of the burden of proof and the deference due to the finder of fact; and (2) giving due deference to the fact-finder's resolution of the burden of proof issue, the district court's judgment must be affirmed. View "Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co. v. Keach" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellants' motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration agreement contained in the parties' installment-sales contract, holding that the contract was supported by mutual obligations and plainly stated that Appellants did not waive arbitration by obtaining a monetary judgment in the small claims division of district court. Appellees purchased a vehicle with an installment-sales contract but failed to make their scheduled payments. Appellees voluntarily surrendered the vehicle, the vehicle was sold, and Appellees' account was credited. Appellants filed a complaint in the small claims division seeking payment for the remaining balance, and the district court entered judgment against Appellees. Appellees appealed, counterclaimed based on usury and Uniform Commercial Code violations, and sought class certification. Appellants sought to compel arbitration. The circuit court denied the motion, concluding that the arbitration agreement at issue lacked mutuality of obligation and that Appellants waived the right to arbitrate by first proceeding in district court. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the arbitration agreement was valid; and (2) Appellants did not waive arbitration by first seeking monetary relief in district court. View "Jorja Trading, Inc. v. Willis" on Justia Law

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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