Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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FedEx Ground Package Systems, Inc. (FXG) filed a lawsuit against Route Consultant, Inc., alleging that the latter company had made nine false or misleading statements about FXG's business practices. FXG contended that these statements were intended to foster discontent between FXG and its contractors, thereby damaging FXG and benefiting Route Consultant. The suit was brought under both the Lanham Act's false advertising provision and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act's statutory disparagement provision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit confirmed the lower court's decision to dismiss the case. The court found that FXG had failed to plausibly allege that Route Consultant made a single false or misleading statement. The court emphasized that only statements of fact--not opinions, puffery, or rhetorical hyperbole--are actionable under the false advertising provision of the Lanham Act. Moreover, a plaintiff must plead and prove the literal falsity of the defendant's statement or demonstrate that the statement is misleading. FXG's complaint did not meet these standards.The court also held that FXG's claim under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act failed for the same reasons as its Lanham Act claim. Thus, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of FXG's lawsuit against Route Consultant. View "FedEx Ground Package Systems, Inc. v. Route Consultant, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2014, plaintiffs Medallion Film LLC and Pelican Point Capital Partners entered into a consulting fee agreement with Clarius Capital Group, managed by William Sadleir. The agreement stipulated that Medallion Film and Pelican Point would assist Clarius in obtaining funding for film projects, and Clarius would pay them a portion of any funding obtained. However, it is alleged that Sadleir dissolved Clarius and its affiliate and subsidiary entities in 2015 and formed a new set of corporate entities under the name Aviron with the assistance of the law firm Loeb & Loeb.The plaintiffs allege that Sadleir controlled both the Clarius and Aviron entities and transferred Clarius’s assets to the Aviron entities. Aviron later obtained a loan for its film projects from BlackRock, which Medallion Film and Pelican Point claim they were entitled to a portion of under their agreement with Clarius. However, Sadleir denied any affiliation between Aviron and Clarius and said he was solely an employee of Aviron.The plaintiffs sued Loeb & Loeb in December 2021, alleging causes of action for fraudulent misrepresentation, deceit by concealment, negligent misrepresentation, aiding and abetting fraud, and violating California Business and Professions Code section 17200. Loeb & Loeb filed a special motion to strike the first amended complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation under section 425.16. The trial court granted the special motion to strike.However, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Eight vacated the judgment, reversed the order granting the special motion to strike, and remanded with directions to enter a new order denying the motion. View "Medallion Film LLC v. Loeb & Loeb LLP" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was tasked with evaluating a previous decision by the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) regarding cost allocation between the United States Postal Service's (USPS) market-dominant and competitive products. United Parcel Service (UPS), a competitor of the USPS, challenged the PRC's formula for allocating institutional costs.The USPS offers both market-dominant products, like standard mail (where it holds a near-monopoly), and competitive products, like package delivery (where it competes with private companies like UPS). The PRC's task is to ensure that the USPS's competitive products cover an "appropriate share" of institutional costs. In 2020, the court had remanded the PRC's Order that adopted a formula for this "appropriate share", and asked the PRC to better explain its reasoning.On remand, the PRC revised its analysis but maintained the same formula. The court of appeals concluded that the PRC had adequately addressed the previous issues identified and reasonably exercised its statutory discretion in adopting the formula. Consequently, UPS's petition for review was denied.The court found that the PRC's interpretation of the distinction between costs attributable to competitive products and costs uniquely or disproportionately associated with competitive products was reasonable. It also found the PRC's decision to not include attributable costs directly in the appropriate share to be reasonable, to avoid double-counting. The court rejected UPS's claim that the PRC was required to allocate all of the USPS's institutional costs between market-dominant and competitive products, and it also found that the PRC had adequately considered competitive products' market conditions. Lastly, the court upheld the PRC's proposed formula for setting the appropriate share. View "United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Postal Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Appellate District Division One of the California Court of Appeal affirmed, with a minor modification, a lower court's decision that Ashford University, LLC and Zovio, Inc. violated California's unfair competition law and false advertising law. Over a decade, the defendants made false and misleading statements to prospective students, committing 1,243,099 violations. The trial court imposed a penalty of $22,375,782, which the defendants challenged as excessive. The appeal court agreed with the defendants that the lower court inadvertently included violations outside the false advertising law's statute of limitations in the penalty calculation. The court reduced the penalty by $933,453. However, the court rejected the defendants' other arguments, including that the penalty should be further reduced because it did not bear a reasonable relationship to the harm proven at trial, violated extraterritoriality principles, and was excessive given the defendants' financial status. The court found the penalty was reasonably related to the harm caused, the defendants could pay the penalty, and the defendants' misconduct emanated from California, so principles of extraterritoriality were not violated. View "People v. Ashford University, LLC" on Justia Law

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The dispute arose from an agreement between Columbia Plaza Associates (CPA) and Northeastern University regarding the development of a parcel of land in Boston. The contract stipulated that the developer for each phase of the project would be Northeastern or an affiliated entity, which could include CPA. The contract also specified that the developer of the garage parcel would be a joint venture between Northeastern and CPA.CPA claimed that Northeastern violated the agreement when it sought to develop a subparcel unilaterally and repudiated CPA's rights to that subparcel. CPA also argued that Northeastern's communication with a governmental agency amounted to a deceptive business practice.The court held that the agreement did not grant CPA development rights in any of the subparcels except for the garage parcel. The court also found no proof of an enforceable promise by Northeastern to build a hotel with CPA on the disputed subparcel. The court thus ruled in favor of Northeastern on all counts, including CPA's claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional interference with advantageous economic relations, unjust enrichment, commercial fraud, unfair or deceptive business practices, and requests for declaratory and injunctive relief.The court further held that Northeastern was entitled to attorney's fees under the anti-SLAPP statute because it successfully dismissed CPA's claim of commercial fraud, which was based solely on Northeastern's petitioning activity. The court did not find CPA's claim to be a SLAPP suit. View "Columbia Plaza Associates v. Northeastern University" on Justia Law

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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