Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Chicago's personal property lease transaction tax ordinance levies a tax on the lease or rental in the city of personal property or the privilege of using in the city personal property that is leased or rented outside the city. The lessee is obliged to pay the tax. In 2011, the department of revenue issued Ruling 11, as guidance to suburban vehicle rental agencies located within three miles of Chicago’s borders. Ruling 11 stated that, in the event of an audit, the department of revenue would hold suburban rental agencies responsible for paying the tax unless there was written proof that the lessee was exempt, based upon the use of the leased vehicle outside the city. Absent such proof, the department would assume that a customer who is a Chicago resident would use the leased vehicle primarily in the city and that a customer who is not a Chicago resident would use the vehicle primarily outside the city. Hertz and Enterprise filed suit. The circuit court enjoined enforcement of the ordinance against plaintiffs with respect to short-term vehicle rental transactions occurring outside the city’s borders. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court found the tax unconstitutional under the state constitution Home Rule Provision. Absent an actual connection to Chicago, Ruling 11, which imposed the tax based on only a lessee’s stated intention or a conclusive presumption of use in Chicago based solely on residency, imposed a tax on transactions that take place wholly outside Chicago borders. View "Hertz Corp. v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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AmEx is the world’s largest issuer of traveler’s checks, which never expire. AmEx and third-party vendors sell the checks at face value, and AmEx profits by investing the funds until the TC is redeemed. Although most are cashed within a year, AmEx uses the remaining uncashed checks for long-term, high-yield investments. Until recently, every state’s abandoned property laws presumed abandonment of uncashed traveler’s checks 15 years after issuance. This presumption requires the issuer to transfer possession of the funds to the state. In 2008 Kentucky amended KRS 393.060(2) to change thes abandonment period from to seven years. AmEx claims violation of the Due Process Clause, the Contract Clause, and the Takings Clause. Following a remand and amendment of the complaint to add a dormant Commerce Clause argument and a claim that the legislation did not apply retroactively to checks that were issued and outstanding prior to the effective date, the district court granted the state summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the amendment applies only prospectively and does not violate the Commerce Clause. View "Am. Express Travel Related Servs. Co., Inc. v. Hollenbach" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs deal in silver and gold jewelry, ingots, numismatics, and other related items. They challenged the facial constitutionality of the Precious Metals Dealers Act, Ohio Rev. Code 4728, alleging violation of the commercial speech rights of businesses dealing in precious metals, vagueness, and violation of the Fourth Amendment by imposing overly burdensome retention, reporting, and record-keeping requirements. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, finding that the Act violated the First Amendment because only those engaged in commercial speech are subject to its licensing requirement. The injunction prohibited the state from requiring licenses or fining those, like plaintiffs, who previously violated the statute. The Sixth Circuit reversed, applying “rational basis” review. The Act does not burden the commercial speech rights of unlicensed precious metals dealers. Such dealers do not have a constitutional right to advertise or operate a business does not comply with reasonable requirements of Ohio law and cannot “hold themselves out” to the public without a license, regardless of whether they advertise. The issue is not advertising, but whether a business holds itself out to the public, which can occur by posting a sign, placing goods in a window, or simply conducting business in a manner that is visible to the public. The court noted the public interest in the statutory scheme .View "Liberty Coins, LLC v. Goodman" on Justia Law

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Former GM and Chrysler dealers, whose franchises were terminated in the 2009 bankruptcies of those companies, sued, alleging that the terminations constituted a taking because the government required them as a condition of its providing financial assistance to the companies. The Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 363, 365, authorizes certain sales of a debtor’s assets and provides that a bankruptcy trustee “may assume or reject any executory contract or unexpired lease of the debtor.” Debtors-in-possession in chapter 11 bankruptcies, like GM and Chrysler, generally have a trustee’s powers. The Claims Court denied motions to dismiss. In interlocutory appeals, the Federal Circuit remanded for consideration of the issues of the “regulatory” impact of the government’s “coercion” and of economic impact. While the allegations of economic loss are deficient in not sufficiently alleging that the economic value of the franchises was reduced or eliminated as a result of the government’s actions, the proper remedy is to grant to leave to amend the complaints to include the necessary allegations. View "A&D Auto Sales, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Frey has owned the Peoria commercial property, which contains a shopping center, for more than 40 years, without prior incident. In 2009, a tenant, ShopRite, was found to be illegally selling Viagra without a licensed pharmacist. The city took legal action against Patel (the franchisee) personally, and the business, then revoked the liquor license for the store and “site approval for the retail sale of alcoholic liquors at the location.” Frey asserted due process violations. The district court and Seventh Circuit rejected the claims. Frey did not adequately explain a substantive due process claim and had no property right such that it was entitled to any process at all before revocation of its site approval, but Frey nonetheless received due process of law before the Peoria Liquor Commission.View "Frey Corp. v. City of Peoria" on Justia Law

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Appellant Farmers National Bank (FNB) appealed the district court's grant of declaratory judgment in favor of Green River Dairy, LLC, and four commodities dealers: Ernest Carter, Lewis Becker, Jack McCall, and Hull Farms (Sellers). FNB argued the district court misinterpreted I.C. 45-1802 (a statutory lien provision) and as a result, erred in granting Sellers a priority lien on collateral securing a loan previously made by FNB. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with FNB about the misinterpretation and vacated the district court's grant of declaratory judgment in favor of the Sellers. View "Farmers Nat'l Bank v. Green River Dairy" on Justia Law

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Kentucky law prohibits businesses that sell substantial amounts of staple groceries or gasoline from applying for a license to sell wine and liquor, Ky. Rev. Stat. 243.230(7). A regulation applies the prohibition to retailers that sell those items at a rate of at least 10% of gross monthly sales. A group of grocers sued the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, alleging that the law irrationally discriminated against them in violation of state and federal equal-protection rights; that it violated state separation-of-powers principles by granting the administrative board unfettered discretion to define the law; and that it violated state and federal due process rights by vaguely defining its terms. A liquor store intervened as a defendant. The district court granted summary judgment to the grocers on the federal equal-protection claim but rejected the other claims. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, upholding the statute. Applying the rational basis test, the court reasoned that the statute conceivably seeks to reduce access to high-alcohol products, and offends neither separation of powers nor due process principles. View "Maxwell's Pic-Pac, Inc. v. Dehner" on Justia Law

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In 2009, to “preserve Delaware’s pre-eminence in offering cost-effective options for resolving disputes, particularly those involving commercial, corporate, and technology,” Delaware granted the Court of Chancery power to arbitrate business disputes. That Court then created an arbitration process as an alternative to trial for certain disputes, 10 DEL. CODE tit. 10, 349; Del. Ch. R. 96-98. To qualify for arbitration, at least one party must be a business entity formed or organized under Delaware law, and neither can be a consumer. Arbitration is limited to monetary disputes that involve an amount of at least one million dollars. The fee for filing is $12,000, and the arbitration costs $6,000 per day after the first day. Arbitration begins approximately 90 days after the petition is filed. The statute and rules bar public access. Arbitration petitions are confidential and are not included in the public docketing system. Attendance at proceedings is limited to parties and their representatives, and all materials and communications produced during the arbitration are protected from disclosure in judicial or administrative proceedings. The Coalition challenged the confidentiality provisions. The district court found that Delaware’s proceedings were essentially civil trials that must be open to the public, under the First Amendment. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "Delaware Coal. for Open Gov't v. Strine" on Justia Law

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The ability of consumers to make purchases on the internet from out-of-state merchants without paying Illinois sales or use taxes caused Illinois retailers to ask the legislature to “level the playing field.” The result was a taxing statute, Public Act 96-1544, effective in 2011, called the “click-through” nexus law. The law was challenged by a group of internet publishers that display website texts or images, such as a retailer’s logo, containing a link to a retailer’s website; they are compensated by the retailer when a consumer clicks on the link and makes a purchase from the retailer. Out-of-state retailers who use such arrangements to generate sales of over $10,000 per year become subject to taxation under the statute. Their challenge was based on the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act, 47 U.S.C. 151, which prohibits discriminatory taxes on electronic transactions, and the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court held that the statute is invalid. The court noted that such marketing, when conducted through print media or on-the-air broadcasting, does not give rise to tax obligations under the Illinois statute. The enactment is a discriminatory tax on electronic commerce within the meaning of federal law, which preempts it. The court did not reach the commerce clause issue. View "Performance Mktg. Ass'n, Inc. v. Hamer" on Justia Law

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A commercial website operator filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of the reasonableness of the fee charged by the Rogers County Clerk for electronic copies of records and for a determination that the corporation was entitled to an electronic copy of the official tract index of county land records. Plaintiff County Records, Inc. is in the business of operating a website that provides land records to on-line subscribers, including the county clerk records for all 77 counties in Oklahoma. In April 2009, Plaintiff requested electronic copies of land records from the County Clerk's office including an electronic copy of the official tract index. The request for an electronic copy of the official tract index was denied based on Defendant's belief that she is legally prohibited from providing it to Plaintiff for its intended commercial sale of the information. The trial court granted summary judgment to the corporation and directed the Clerk to provide all the requested electronic copies at a "reasonable fee." Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that Plaintiff was not legally entitled to the tract index information in electronic form and the county clerk is prohibited by a specific provision in the Open Records Act from providing information from the land records for resale.View "County Records, Inc. v. Armstrong" on Justia Law