Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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TURSS provided background and credit screening services to property management professionals and landlords through its online platforms and undertook to build an online platform to sell customizable electronic lease forms. TURSS sent Helix a letter of intent that the platform would be completed in 2009. The companies entered into a five-year marketing agreement that required TURSS to provide the platform and Helix to provide the product. TURSS would receive 35% of the revenue generated from sales and Helix would receive 65%. The agreement was not exclusive. Helix provided electronic forms and supporting materials to TURSS but the platform was still not completed in 2015.Helix sued TURSS for“willful and intentional” breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and promissory estoppel. The court ultimately granted TURSS summary judgment. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court reversed, finding that Helix failed to present proof of its damages with reasonable certainty. Helix did not present evidence of revenues of a similar product or a similar business in a similar market. Where a plaintiff seeks lost profits for a new company, "without a track record of profit, attempting to sell a new and untested product to a new market,” the specter of impermissible speculation arises. View "Ivey v. Transunion Rental Screening Solutions Inc." on Justia Law

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Walworth, a former stockholder, sued Mu Sigma, a privately held data analytics company, and Rajaram, the company’s founder, CEO, and board chairman, alleging that after reaping the benefits of Walworth’s $1.5 million investment and reputational capital, the defendants embarked on a fraudulent scheme to oust Walworth of its substantial ownership interest in the company.The Cook County circuit court dismissed the complaint, citing the stock repurchase agreement (SRA), which included anti-reliance and general release provisions. The appellate court reversed, holding that the anti-reliance language was ambiguous. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal, stating that “the broad and comprehensive release agreed to by [Walworth], a sophisticated party represented by experienced counsel, unambiguously encompasses” the unjust enrichment and breach of contract claims. The bargained-for anti-reliance provisions reflected the understanding that there may be undisclosed information but that Walworth was satisfied by the information provided. Walworth had direct access to Rajaram to negotiate the arm’s-length transaction at issue and Rajaram was not acting as a fiduciary for Walworth. A corporation owes no fiduciary duty to its shareholder and Delaware law does not impose “an affirmative fiduciary duty of disclosure for individual transactions.” View "Walworth Investments-LG, LLC v. Mu Sigma, Inc." on Justia Law

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Caudill's subsidiary develops nutritional supplements. Jarrow, a dietary-supplement company, solicited Ashurst, Caudill’s Director of Research, who had extensively researched the development of broccoli-seed derivatives at issue. Ashurst had signed Non-Disclosure, Non-Competition, and Secrecy Agreements, and annually signed Caudill’s employee handbook, which barred him from disclosing Caudill’s trade secrets or other confidential information. In April 2011, Ashurst, still a Caudill employee, emailed Jarrow confidential Caudill documents. Days later, Jarrow requested a file of the pertinent data. Ashurst sent a physical disc. On May 1, Ashurst began to work for Jarrow. Ashurst then submitted his resignation to Caudill. Ashurst’s Agreement with Jarrow indicated that Jarrow hired him to mimic his work for Caudill, Ashurst proposed that Jarrow adopt the process that Caudill used to manufacture the raw materials for its BroccoMax supplement. Jarrow brought an activated broccoli product into commercial production four months after hiring Ashurst. From 2012-2019, Jarrow earned $7.5 million in sales of their BroccoMax-type product.In a suit under the Kentucky Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment of $2,427,605 in damages awarded by the jury, $1,000,000 in exemplary damages, $3,254,303.50 in attorney fees, and $69,871.82 in costs against Jarrow. The court rejected arguments that Caudill failed to define one of its Trade Secrets adequately, failed to show that Jarrow acquired that Trade Secret; and did not introduce sufficient evidence attributing its damages to that misappropriation, as well as challenges to the awards of damages. View "Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co. Inc. v. Jarrow Formulas, Inc." on Justia Law

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Stackpole (Purchaser) makes car parts. Precision (Seller) makes automotive subcomponents. In 2014, Seller gave Purchaser quotes on pumps, making “[a]cceptance of order” subject to APQP [Advanced Product Quality Planning Review]. Purchaser issued a “Letter of Intent” to buy 1.1 million 10R/10L shafts and 306,000 Nano shafts. Seller's employee signed the letter, which provided that Purchaser would issue purchase orders for actual shipments. The purchase orders contained six pages of supplemental terms, allowing Purchaer to “terminate . . . this contract, at any time and for any reason, by giving written notice,” and providing that purchase orders would “not become binding” until the additional provisions were “signed and returned.” Seller did not sign the purchase orders but shipped parts to Purchaser for two years. In 2017, Seller stated that it needed a price increase or it would have to halt production. Purchaser agreed to price increases “under duress and protest,” then sued for breach of contract. Seller counterclaimed, alleging that Purchaser had impermissibly withheld its approval to make the parts by an automatic rather than manual process.The district court awarded Purchaser summary judgment, finding the parties had formed a contract “for successive performances.” “indefinite in duration.” Michigan law makes such contracts presumptively terminable upon “reasonable notification” A jury awarded $1 million. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Letter of Intent constituted a contract, notwithstanding the failure to engage in APQP. No contextual factor suggests a right to terminate the Letter of Intent without notice. View "Stackpole International Engineered Products, Ltd.. v. Angstrom Automotive Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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PSI helps customers bring products to market. P.B. contacted PSI for assistance with the design, manufacture, and distribution of a custom cosmetics bag (Orgo Bag). PSI submitted a purchase order to its Chinese manufacturers indicating that P.B. would purchase 100,000 Orgo Bags in the first year and purchase another 1.5 million bags annually thereafter. During the first 18 months, P.B. purchased only 38,296 Orgo Bags. PSI directed the Chinese manufacturer to mitigate its losses and liquidate any materials it had purchased for the Orgo. The failure of the Orgo cost PSI $506,129.44. In 2019, PSI sued P.B., Aldez, Copek, and Byrne, alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, fraud, silent fraud, negligent misrepresentation, innocent misrepresentation, and non-acceptance of conforming goods under the U.C.C. The court dismissed Copek, Byrne, and Aldez but permitted some claims against P.B. to continue.In 2021, PSI sued Aldez for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and nonacceptance of conforming goods, arguing that in the 2019 suit, its claims were pleaded directly against Aldez, whereas in the 2021 suit, it sought to pierce P.B.’s corporate veil and hold Aldez vicariously liable. The district court dismissed, citing res judicata. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The complaint does not allege any wrongdoing by Aldez and corporate veil piercing is not a cause of action under Michigan law; the 2021 suit’s complaint fails to state a claim. View "Product Solutions International, Inc. v. Aldez Containers, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) claims against several parties after a family-help ranch was sold to a corporate entity against his knowledge.In 1961, Plaintiff’s father and grandfather formed the Healy Ranch Partnership (“HRP”). In 1986, Plaintiff’s grandmother transferred her partnership interest to Plaintiff in exchange for him assuming the partnership’s debt and making certain payments to her. In 1994, Plaintiff’s mother formed a South Dakota corporation, Healy Ranch, Inc. (“HRI”). She filed articles of incorporation authorizing HRI to issue 1,000,000 shares of common stock with a par value of one dollar per share. The articles of incorporation stated that the “corporation will not commence business until consideration of the value of at least Five Thousand Dollars has been received for the issuance of shares.” That same year, Plaintiff’s mother and her lawyer caused HRI to issue nearly 300,000 shares without consideration. In 1995, Plaintiff’s mother conveyed all of the partnership’s real-property interest in the ranch to HRI, including both her 50 percent share as well as Plaintiff’s 50 percent share. In 2000, Plaintiff’s mother sold one-third of her shares of HRI to Plaintiff and one-third to each of his two brothers. In Healy I, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s actions.Plaintiff then filed this RICO action; which the court dismissed because it ran afoul of res judicata and the four-year statute of limitations for RICO claims. View "Bret Healy v. Albert Fox" on Justia Law

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Taizhou, a Chinese manufacturer, entered into a Cooperation Agreement with Z Outdoor, a Wisconsin company owned by Casual Products: Taizhou would manufacture outdoor furniture and other related items for Z Outdoor to sell to customers. Z Outdoor eventually stopped paying Taizhou. The Cornings, on behalf of Z Outdoor, made false statements about future business, forthcoming payments, and causes for the delays. Taizhou continued to fill customer orders without receiving compensation. In 2018, AFG (a Wisconsin LLC also owned by Casual) started submitting purchase orders to Taizhou. AFG never signed the Cooperation Agreement. Taizhou filled the orders and sent AFG invoices. AFG eventually stopped paying Taizhou and made false statements regarding payment delays. The total due from Z Outdoor and AFG accrued to $14 million for purchase orders sent, 2017-2019.The district court entered a default judgment against the corporate defendants on Taizhou's contract claims but ruled against Taizhou on unjust enrichment, fraud, and conversion claims, finding the fraud and conversion claims barred by Wisconsin’s economic loss doctrine and q “mere repackaging of Taizhou’s ‘straightforward breach of contract claim.’” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Any fraud was interwoven with the Cooperation Agreement, so the economic loss doctrine applies. To the extent the damages amounted to lost profits or lost business, those are also economic losses under Wisconsin law. View "Taizhou Yuanda Investment Group Co., Ltd. v. Z Outdoor Living, LLC" on Justia Law

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Turo, an Internet-based platform, allows vehicle owners to list, and customers to rent, specific passenger vehicles, processes reservations and payments and retains a percentage of the proceeds of each rental transaction. Turo provides a liability insurance policy through a third-party insurer. Turo competes with traditional on-airport and off-airport rental car companies and has used phrases like “rent” and “rental car” in its advertisements.The government sued Turo under the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200) for operating a rental car business at SFO without the required permit, engaging in prohibited curbside transactions at SFO, and using airport roadways and offering services on airport property without permission. Turo sought a declaratory judgment that it is not a rental car company and alleged that SFO had unlawfully demanded that Turo obtain an off-airport rental car company permit, and pay fees that SFO is authorized to charge only “rental car companies” under Government Code 50474.1(a).The court of appeal held that Turo is not a rental car company. That term is not defined in the Government Code but is defined in nearly identical language in three separate California statutes to mean a person or entity in the business of renting passenger vehicles to the public. A rental car company has control over the vehicles in its fleet in a way Turo does not View "Turo v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the application the Fair Practices of Equipment Manufacturers, Distributors, Wholesalers, and Dealers Act, Tex. Bus. & Com. Code 57.001-.402, in this case did not violate the constitutional prohibition against retroactive laws in Tex. Const. art. I, 16.In the 1990s, Fire Protection Service, Inc. (FPS), orally agreed to be an authorized dealer and servicer of the life rafts manufactured by Survitec Survival Products, Inc. Nearly six years after the promulgation of the Act, which prohibits a supplier from terminating a dealer agreement without good cause, Survitec notified FPS that it was terminating their relationship. FPS sued for a violation of the Act. The district court entered judgment for Survitec. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that the application of the Act to the parties' agreement does not violate the retroactivity clause in article I, section 16. View "Fire Protection Service, Inc. v. Survitec Survival Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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NOCO manufactures and sells battery chargers and related products. Although it sells these products itself, NOCO also authorizes resellers if they sign an agreement. NOCO discovered that OJC was selling NOCO’s products on Amazon without authorization. NOCO complained to Amazon that OJC was selling NOCO’s products in violation of Amazon’s policy. Around the same time, another company (Emson) also complained to Amazon about OJC. Amazon asked OJC for proof that it was complying with its policy concerning intellectual property rights. OJC did not provide adequate documents. Amazon temporarily deactivated OJC’s account.OJC claimed that NOCO submitted false complaints, and sued for defamation, tortious interference with a business relationship, and violation of the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of OJC’s claims. To succeed on those claims, OJC must establish that NOCO was the proximate cause of its injury. It cannot do this because three intervening causes broke the causal chain, relieving NOCO of any liability: Emson’s complaint, Amazon’s independent investigation and decision, and OJC’s opportunity to prevent the harm to itself. View "NOCO Co. v. OJ Commerce, LLC" on Justia Law