Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Russell v. Zimmer, Inc.
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
Geomatrix, LLC v. NSF International
Septic systems comprise a septic tank that isolates and contains the sewage; the remaining wastewater flows through a drain field, where microorganisms treat it. Customers have two options for private septic systems—aerobic treatment units (contained systems), or soil-based/open-bottom treatment systems (T&D systems). Geomatrix markets and sells a T&D system, while many of its competitors sell contained systems.Since 1970, NSF has offered certification for the wastewater treatment industry, A manufacturer needs to obtain certification before marketing products in at least 37 states. This standard is developed through a voluntary consensus process, overseen by a joint committee staffed by NSF employees, state regulatory officers, industry manufacturers, and consumers. Geomatrix obtained certification. Geomatrix alleges that competitors then began conspiring against T&D systems, questioning whether T&D systems should be entitled to certification and disparaging the efficacy of T&D systems. The alleged conspiracy affected Geomatrix’s business by preventing it from obtaining state regulatory approval, although its certification should have made it possible to do so. Ultimately, Geomatrix withdrew its NSF certification. NSF has not adopted a new standard; discussions remain ongoing.Geomatrix filed suit, alleging violations of the Sherman Act and the Lanham Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The defendants’ petitioning activity was immunized under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. Geomatrix failed to show the proximate cause required for its unfair competition claims, and its promissory estoppel claims were based on statements that did not state a sufficiently definite promise. View "Geomatrix, LLC v. NSF International" on Justia Law
Truesdell v. Friedlander
Legacy, a small family-owned business, provides nonemergency ambulance services in several Ohio counties that border Kentucky. After receiving many inquiries from Kentucky hospitals and nursing homes, Legacy sought to expand into the Commonwealth. Kentucky required Legacy to apply for a “certificate of need” with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Existing ambulance providers objected to Legacy’s request. The Cabinet denied Legacy’s application partly on the ground that these providers offered an adequate supply. Legacy sued, alleging that Kentucky’s certificate-of-need law violated the “dormant” or “negative” part of the Commerce Clause.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to Legacy’s request to offer intrastate ambulance transportation in Kentucky. Under the modern approach to the dormant Commerce Clause, a law’s validity largely depends on whether it discriminates against out-of-state businesses in favor of in-state ones. Legacy’s evidence suggests that the state’s limits will harm Kentucky’s own “consumers.” It has not shown a “substantial harm” to interstate commerce. The court reversed with respect to Legacy’s request to offer interstate ambulance transportation between Kentucky and Ohio. States may not deny a common carrier a license to provide interstate transportation on the ground that the interstate market contains an “adequate” supply. The bright-line rule barring states from obstructing interstate “competition” does require a finding that a state has discriminated against out-of-state entities. View "Truesdell v. Friedlander" on Justia Law
Amory Investments LLC v. Utrecht-America Holdings, Inc.
Consolidated suits claimed that many firms in the broiler-chicken business formed a cartel. Third-party discovery in that ongoing suit turned up evidence that Rabobank, a lender to several broiler-chicken producers, urged at least two of them to cut production. Some plaintiffs added Rabobank as an additional defendant.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims. The Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, bans combinations and conspiracies in restraint of trade and does not reach unilateral action. Here, all the plaintiffs allege is that Rabobank tried to protect its interests through unilateral action. The complaint does not allege that Rabobank served as a conduit for the producers’ agreement, helped them coordinate their production and catch cheaters, or even knew that the producers were coordinating among themselves. A flurry of emails among managers and other employees at Rabobank observing that lower output and higher prices in the broiler-chicken market would improve the bank’s chance of collecting its loans and a pair of emails from the head of Rabobank’s poultry-lending section, to executives at two producers indicated nothing but unilateral action. The intra-Rabobank emails could not have promoted or facilitated cooperation among producers and the two messages only reminded the producers that as long as demand curves slope downward, lower output implies higher prices. Advice differs from agreement. View "Amory Investments LLC v. Utrecht-America Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Block v. Canepa
Miller, who describes himself as “an active wine consumer,” asserts that he wants to order wine from out-of-state retailers and would like to be able to buy wine in other states and transport that wine back into Ohio for his personal use. House of Glunz is an Illinois wine retailer and alleges that it wishes to ship wine directly to Ohio consumers but cannot. Miller and Glunz challenged the constitutionality of Ohio liquor laws preventing out-of-state wine retailers from shipping wine directly to Ohio consumers and prohibiting individuals from transporting more than 4.5 liters of wine into Ohio during any 30-day period.The district court held that the Direct Ship Restriction is constitutional under binding Sixth Circuit precedent; the Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from the claims; and the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the Transportation Limit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Eleventh Amendment immunity, reversed with respect to the Direct Ship Restriction and the plaintiffs’ standing to challenge the Transportation Limit. On remand, the district court shall determine whether the challenged statutes “can be justified as a public health or safety measure or on some other legitimate nonprotectionist ground,” and whether their “predominant effect” is “the protection of public health or safety,” rather than “protectionism.” View "Block v. Canepa" on Justia Law
United States v. United States Sugar Corp.
Imperial Sugar went bankrupt in 2001 and suffered a costly accident in 2008, prompting its sale to Louis Dreyfus. Imperial receives from Louis Dreyfus only minimal investment and is an “import-based, price-uncompetitive sugar refinery” that is “structurally uncompetitive” and lost roughly 10 percent of its customers from 2021-2022. Florida-based refiner U.S. Sugar agreed to purchase Imperial. The government sought an injunction (Clayton Act. 15 U.S.C. 18), arguing that the acquisition would have anticompetitive effects, leaving only two entities in control of 75% of refined sugar sales in the southeastern United States. The government applied the hypothetical monopolist test to demonstrate the validity of its proposed product and geographic markets. U.S. Sugar responded that it does not sell its own sugar but participates with other producers in a Capper-Volstead agricultural cooperative that markets and sells the firms’ output collectively but exercises no control over the quantities produced. At capacity, Imperial’s facility could produce only about seven percent of national output. U.S. Sugar argued that distributors constitute a crucial competitive check on producer-refiners that would undermine any attempt to increase prices and noted evidence of the high mobility of refined sugar throughout the country.The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of an injunction, upholding a finding that the government overlooked the pro-competitive effects of distributors in the market, erroneously lumped together heterogeneous wholesale customers, and defined the relevant geographic market without regard for the high mobility of sugar throughout the country. View "United States v. United States Sugar Corp." on Justia Law
United States v. You
You, a U.S. citizen of Chinese origin, worked as a chemist, testing the chemical coatings used in Coca-Cola’s beverage cans. You was one of only a few Coca-Cola employees with access to secret BPA-free formulas. You secretly planned to start a company in China to manufacture the BPA-free chemical and received business grants from the Chinese government, claiming that she had developed the world’s “most advanced” BPA-free coating technology. On her last night as a Coca-Cola employee, You transferred the formula files to her Google Drive account and then to a USB drive. You certified that she had not kept any confidential information. You then joined Eastman, where she copied company files to the same account and USB drive. Eastman fired You and became aware of her actions. Eastman retrieved the USB drive and reported You to the FBI.You was convicted of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, 18 U.S.C. 1832(a)(5), possessing stolen trade secrets, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, and economic espionage. The Sixth Circuit remanded for resentencing after rejecting You’s claims that the district court admitted racist testimony and gave jury instructions that mischaracterized the government’s burden of proof as to You’s knowledge of the trade secrets and their value to China. In calculating the intended loss, the court clearly erred by relying on market estimates that it deemed speculative and by confusing anticipated sales of You’s planned business with its anticipated profits. View "United States v. You" on Justia Law
Sunny Handicraft (H.K.) Ltd. v. Envision This!, LLC
Sunny sold seasonal merchandise to Walgreens, with Envision as an intermediary. From 2007-2012 Sunny shipped goods directly to Walgreens but routed documents through Envision. Every year Sunny sent documents calling for it to be named the beneficiary of letters of credit to cover the price. Envision passed these to Walgreens, which arranged for the letters of credit. In 2013 Sunny sent the usual documents but Envision substituted its own name for Sunny’s as the beneficiary of the letters of credit. Walgreens sent the letters of credit to Envision, which drew more than $3 million.A jury found that Envision breached its contract with Sunny by not paying it the money drawn on the letters of credit and that Envision had committed fraud. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Envision’s argument that it cannot be liable for fraud because it was not Sunny’s agent or fiduciary and therefore did not have any duty to alert Sunny that it had changed the instructions about who would control the letters of credit. The cooperative business relations between Sunny and Envision from 2007-2012 created a “special relationship” that required Envision to notify Sunny about any deviation in their dealings. View "Sunny Handicraft (H.K.) Ltd. v. Envision This!, LLC" on Justia Law
West Pueblo Partners, LLC v. Stone Brewing Co., LLC
The landlord is a four-member LLC with a single asset--a building in downtown Napa. The tenant, Stone Brewing, a large beer brewing and retail corporation, operates a brewpub in the building. Stone Brewing did not pay rent for several months during the pandemic. The landlord sued for unlawful detainer. Stone argued it was excused from paying rent because COVID-19 regulations and business interruptions triggered a force majeure provision in its lease.The trial court granted the landlord summary judgment, finding that the force majeure provision only excused performance if the claiming party was unable to meet its obligations due to factors outside its control; the tenant admitted during discovery it had the financial resources to pay rent during the period of the COVID-19 regulations but simply refused to do so. The court of appeal affirmed. The force majeure provision does not apply where the tenant had the ability to meet its contractual obligations but chooses not to perform due to financial constraints. The plain meaning of the force majeure provision does not support an interpretation that ties a party’s obligation to pay rent to its profitability or revenue stream instead of a delay or interruption caused by the force majeure event itself. View "West Pueblo Partners, LLC v. Stone Brewing Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Lewis v. Acuity Real Estate Services, LLC
Acuity operates a website that connects people looking to buy or sell homes with a local real estate agent. Acuity’s services are free to home buyers and sellers but realtors pay a fee for referrals. The real-estate broker that employed Lewis, a real estate agent, signed up to receive Acuity’s referrals. The broker required its agents (including Lewis) to pay Acuity’s fee out of their commissions from home sales. Lewis sued, alleging that Acuity makes false claims to home buyers and sellers on its website and that this false advertising violates the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1)(B).The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Lanham Act provides a cause of action only for businesses that suffer commercial injuries (such as lost product sales) from the challenged false advertising. The Act does not provide a cause of action for customers who suffer consumer injuries (such as the cost of a defective product) from false advertising. Lewis alleges that type of consumer harm as his injury from Acuity’s allegedly false advertising: He seeks to recover the referral fee (that is, the price) he paid for Acuity’s services. View "Lewis v. Acuity Real Estate Services, LLC" on Justia Law