Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Louisiana-Pacific produces “engineered-wood” building siding—wood treated with zinc borate, a preservative that poisons termites; Hardie sells fiber-cement siding. To demonstrate the superiority of its fiber cement, Hardie initiated an advertising campaign called “No Wood Is Good,” proclaiming that customers ought to realize that all wood siding—however “engineered”—is vulnerable to damage by pests. Its marketing materials included digitally-altered images and video of a woodpecker perched in a hole in Louisiana-Pacific’s siding with nearby text boasting both that “Pests Love It,” and that engineered wood is “[s]ubject to damage caused by woodpeckers, termites, and other pests.” Louisiana-Pacific sued Hardie, alleging false advertising, and moved for a preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Louisiana-Pacific failed to show that it would likely succeed in proving the advertisement unambiguously false under the Lanham Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. View "Louisiana-Pacific Corp. v. James Hardie Building Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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A trial court’s authority to distinguish between genuine and non-genuine fact issues includes the authority to apply the so-called “sham affidavit rule” when confronted with evidence that appears to be a sham designed to avoid summary judgment.Under the sham affidavit rule, if a party submits an affidavit that conflicts with the affiant’s prior sworn testimony and does not provide a sufficient explanation for the conflict, a trial court may disregard the affidavit when deciding whether the party has raised a genuine fact issue to avoid summary judgment. In this commercial dispute, the trial court struck an affidavit as a sham under the rule and granted partial summary judgment. A divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed and adopted the sham affidavit doctrine, which had not previously been explicitly recognized by the court of appeals. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision as to the partial summary judgment grant, as the trial court properly concluded that the affidavit in question did not raise a genuine fact issue sufficient to survive summary judgment. The Court then remanded to the court of appeals to consider whether any claims remained unresolved. View "Lujan v. Navistar, Inc." on Justia Law

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Philip White obtained a judgment for $100,000 in compensatory damages and moved for an award of prejudgment interest. The district court denied the motion, viewing the bulk of the award as compensation for noneconomic damages. White argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that the Court should: (1) overrule earlier opinions and find that prejudgment interest was always available for compensatory awards under 42 U.S.C. 1983; or (2) conclude that the district court abused its discretion in disallowing prejudgment interest. The Court rejected both of White's arguments, finding it could not overrule published opinions by other Tenth Circuit panels. Applying an abuse-of-discretion standard, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying prejudgment interest on the award of noneconomic compensatory damages; and (2) the district court could reasonably decline to speculate on the amount the jury had regarded as economic damages. View "White v. Wycoff" on Justia Law

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Whitney National Bank (Whitney) obtained a judgment against Daniel Fitzpatrick and his business entities (collectively, Fitzpatrick). In a separate matter, Fitzpatrick, represented by O’Brien & Wolf, LLP, obtained a judgment against the City of Oronoco. Whitney served a garnishment summons on the City to establish and perfect a garnishment lien against the judgment proceeds won by Fitzpatrick. O’Brien subsequently filed a motion to establish and determine the amount and priority of its attorney’s lien. The district court held that Whitney’s garnishment lien was superior to O’Brien’s attorney’s lien, concluding that a cause-of-action attorney’s lien is perfected, as against third parties, from the time the attorney files notice of the lien claim. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the plain language of Minn. Stat. 481.13(1)(a)(1) does not require an attorney with a cause-of-action attorney’s lien to file notice of the lien claim for the lien to have priority over third-party claims. View "City of Oronoco v. Fitzpatrick Real Estate, LLC" on Justia Law

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Polar, a Finnish company based in Finland, owns U.S. patents directed to a method and apparatus for measuring heart rates during physical exercise. Polar sued, alleging infringement directly and indirectly, through the manufacture, use, sale, and importation of Suunto products. Suunto is a Finnish company with a principal place of business and manufacturing facilities in Finland. Suunto and ASWO (a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Utah) are owned by the same parent company. ASWO distributes Suunto’s products in the U.S. Suunto ships the accused products to addresses specified by ASWO. ASWO pays for shipping; title passes to ASWO at Suunto’s shipping dock in Finland. At least 94 accused products have been shipped from Finland to Delaware retailers using that standard ordering process. At least three Delaware retail stores sell the products. Suunto also owns, but ASWO maintains, a website, where customers can locate Delaware Suunto retailers or order Suunto products. At least eight online sales have been made in Delaware. The Federal Circuit vacated dismissal of Suunto for lack of personal jurisdiction. Suunto’s activities demonstrated its intent to serve the Delaware market specifically; the accused products have been sold in Delaware. Suunto had purposeful minimum contacts, so that Delaware’s “assertion of personal jurisdiction is reasonable and fair” and proper under the Delaware long-arm​ statute. View "Polar Electro Oy v. Suunto Oy" on Justia Law

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Darling’s Auto Mall is a franchisee of General Motors LLC (GM) and and authorized dealer. Darling’s filed two small claims actions in district court alleging that it had been underpaid by GM for certain warranty repairs in violation of the Business Practices Between Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, Distributors and Dealers Act (Dealers Act). The district court ruled in favor of Darling’s on both small claims. GM appealed and requested a jury trial de novo. The superior court granted GM’s request. After a jury trial, the superior court entered a judgment in favor of GM. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the superior court’s decision to grant a jury trial de novo was not an appealable determination; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Darling’s motion for judgment as a matter of law; and (3) the trial court properly rejected Darling’s proposed jury instructions. View "Darling's Auto Mall v. General Motors LLC" on Justia Law

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Corporate citizens of Delaware, Nebraska, and Illinois, sued Americold, a “real estate investment trust” organized under Maryland law, in a Kansas court. Americold removed the suit based on diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1), 1441(b). The federal court accepted jurisdiction and ruled in Americold’s favor. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court lacked jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed. For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, Americold’s citizenship is based on the citizenship of its members, which include its shareholders. Historically, the relevant citizens for jurisdictional purposes in a suit involving a “mere legal entity” were that entity’s “members,” or the “real persons who come into court” in the entity’s name. Except for that limited exception of jurisdictional citizenship for corporations, diversity jurisdiction in a suit by or against the entity depends on the citizenship of all its members, including shareholders. The Court rejected an argument that anything called a “trust” possesses the citizenship of its trustees alone; Americold confused the traditional trust with the variety of unincorporated entities that many states have given the “trust” label. Under Maryland law, the real estate investment trust at issue is treated as a “separate legal entity” that can sue or be sued. View "Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from Ward Farms' purchase of Enerbase Cooperative Resource's tractor at a third-party auction sale. Michael Ward, a partner of Ward Farms, attended an auction sale, and bid on the tractor. Shortly after the sale, Ward Farms discovered the tractor required significant repairs. At Ward Farms' request, Enerbase inspected the tractor and estimated the repair costs as ranging from $19,550 to $31,430. Subsequently, Ward Farms sued Enerbase alleging fraud, misrepresentation, deceit, and breach of express and implied warranties. Ward Farms sought alternative remedies of rescission or damages. Ward Farms appealed the district court judgment denying its motion to amend its complaint and granting a summary judgment motion in favor of Enerbase. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Ward Farms' motion to amend, and the district court did not err in granting Enerbase's summary judgment motion because Ward Farms did not raise an issue of material fact regarding its claim. View "Ward Farms v. Enerbase Cooperative Resource" on Justia Law

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Iqbal bought a gasoline service station and contracted with S-Mart Petroleum for gasoline. Iqbal then hired Patel to conduct the business, ceding operational control to him. He chose Patel on the recommendation of Johnson, S-Mart’s president. Patel ran the business but did not pay for the gasoline, leading S-Mart to sue. The Indiana state court entered a judgment of more than $65,000 against Iqbal as guarantor. Under a settlement, Iqbal gave S-Mart a note, secured by a mortgage on the business premises. When he still did not pay, a state court entered a second judgment against him, and the property was sold in a foreclosure auction. Iqbal filed a federal suit, alleging that Patel and Johnson acted in cahoots to defraud him out of his business and seeking treble damages under 18 U.S.C. 1964, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The district court dismissed the complaint as barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because it challenged the state court’s judgments. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that Iqbal seeks damages for activity that (he alleges) predated the state litigation and caused injury independently of it. View "Iqbal v. Patel" on Justia Law

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Kopko ran SFS in Michigan, providing financial transaction processing and electronic funds transfers to companies engaged in e-commerce, processing those transactions through its Fifth Third account, Fifth Third discovered that FBD was processing illegal gambling funds through that account and notified SFS that it was closing SFS’s account immediately. Losing this account crippled SFS’s ability to do business. SFS went bankrupt. Kopko telephoned FBD and spoke to Bastable, FBD’s vice-president for e-commerce. According to Kopko, Bastable said FBD did not have an account in SFS’s name. Months later SFS received a grand jury subpoena related to a federal investigation of the gambling transactions done in SFS’s name. When Kopko called Bastable again to discuss the subpoena, Bastable admitted that FBD had an account in SFS’s name and that the board of directors was aware of this account. In 2012, SFS sued FBD, Bastable, and FBD’s individual directors in federal court for negligence and fraud against. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that: answering the phone calls did not establish personal jurisdiction over individual defendants; FBD owed no duty of care to SFS because SFS was not a customer; and SFS failed to adequately plead a claim of fraud. View "SFS Check, LLC v. First Bank of De." on Justia Law