Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Dzierzawski was vice-president of Forsyth's vineyard company. When Forsythe declined an opportunity to produce a custom wine for the Meijer grocery chain, Dzierzawski formed Vinifera and began doing business with Meijer, while continuing to work for Forsythe. Forsythe eventually became aware of the scope of Dzierzawski’s operation and filed suit.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Dzierzawski on the corporate opportunity theory. A jury found Dzierzawski liable on the unfair competition contention but rejected unjust enrichment, fiduciary duty, and breach of the duty of good faith theories. The jury left the damages section on the verdict form blank. The court polled the jurors, who unanimously responded that it was their intention to award no damages. Forsyth did not object to the verdict at that time but later moved for a new trial. The court denied that motion but granted Forsyth’s request for disgorgement as alternative relief, and ordered Dzierzawski to pay $285,731, reasoning that “the jury’s verdict is merely advisory on the issue of equitable disgorgement, as it is an equitable remedy to be imposed by the Court.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The evidence does not support that Dzierzawski stole a corporate opportunity from his company and there was no reversible error in the disgorgement order. View "Continental Vineyard LLC v. Dzierzawski" on Justia Law

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G&S had a written contract to work as a representative for a manufacturer, R3. The critical term dealing with sales commissions did not show any agreement on commission rates. It said that the parties would try to agree on commission rates on a job-by-job, customer-by-customer basis. While the original 2011 “agreement to agree” would not have been enforceable by itself, the parties did later agree on commission rates for each customer and went forward with their business. In 2014, changes made by customers in their ordering procedures led to disputes about commissions.The district court granted summary judgment for R3, relying primarily on the original failure to agree on commission rates. The Seventh Circuit reversed. A reasonable jury could find that the later job-by-job commission agreements were governed by the broader terms of the original written contract. The rest of the case is “rife with factual disputes that cannot be resolved on summary judgment.” View "R3 Composites Corp. v. G&S Sales Corp." on Justia Law

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Defendant manufactures aloe vera gel, sold under its own brand and as private‐label versions. Suppliers harvest, fillet, and de-pulp aloe vera leaves. The resulting aloe is pasteurized, filtered, treated with preservatives, and dehydrated for shipping. Defendant reconstitutes the dehydrated aloe and adds stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives to make the product shelf‐stable. The products are 98% aloe gel and 2% other ingredients. Labels describe the product as aloe vera gel that can be used to treat dry, irritated, or sunburned skin. One label calls the product “100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel.” An asterisk leads to information on the back of the label: “Plus stabilizers and preservatives to insure [sic] potency and efficacy.” Each label contains an ingredient list showing aloe juice and other substances.Plaintiffs brought consumer deception claims, alleging that the products did not contain any aloe vera and lacked acemannan, a compound purportedly responsible for the plant’s therapeutic qualities. Discovery showed those allegations to be false. Plaintiffs changed their theory, claiming that the products were degraded and did not contain enough acemannan so that it was misleading to represent them as “100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel,” and to market the therapeutic effects associated with aloe vera. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. There was no evidence that some concentration of acemannan is necessary to call a product aloe or to produce a therapeutic effect, nor evidence that consumers care about acemannan concentration. View "Beardsall v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2011 Wells Fargo entered into a loan and security agreement with hhgregg to provide the retailer with operating credit. Wells Fargo had a perfected first-priority, floating lien on nearly all of hhgregg’s assets. In 2017, hhgregg petitioned for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, owing Wells Fargo $66 million. Wells Fargo agreed to provide debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing in return for a priming, first-priority security interest on substantially all of hhgregg’s assets, including existing and after-acquired inventory and its proceeds. The bankruptcy judge approved the DIP financing agreement and the super-priority security interest. Whirlpool had long delivered home appliances to hhgregg on credit for resale. Three days after the approval of the DIP financing, Whirlpool sent a reclamation demand seeking the return of $16.3 million of unpaid inventory delivered during 45 days before the petition date and filed an adversary complaint, seeking a declaration that its reclamation claim was first in priority as to the reclaimed goods. Reorganization proved unsuccessful. The bankruptcy judge authorized hhgregg to sell its inventory—including the Whirlpool goods—in going-out-of-business sales and entered summary judgment for Wells Fargo.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Reclamation is a limited remedy that permits a seller to recover possession of goods delivered to an insolvent purchaser, subject to significant restrictions, 11 U.S.C. 546(c). A seller’s right to reclaim goods is “subject to the prior rights of a holder of a security interest in such goods or the proceeds thereof.” Whirlpool’s later-in-time reclamation demand is “subject to” Wells Fargo’s prior rights as a secured creditor; its reclamation claim is subordinate to the DIP financing lien. View "Whirlpool Corp. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Yama Seiki, a California manufacturer of machine tools, sent PMT, a Wisconsin corporation, an exclusive letter of dealership, requiring sales of $1,000,000 or 15 machines in a year and stocking one machine on PMT’s showroom floor. PMT rejected the letter, believing it could not reach the sales requirements. Weeks later, PMT offered to take stock of two machines in exchange for an exclusive-dealer agreement. PMT responded with an application for dealership status and a proposal to negotiate further. Wang, a Yama Seiki manager with whom PMT had negotiated, did not address the offer but responded that he was “not sure if you are aware that you are in ‘exclusive’ status.” PMT never took stock of any machines, but it facilitated sales by soliciting customers, negotiating prices, and connecting customers with Yama Seiki,j who paid Yama Seiki under its usual sales terms. PMT was responsible for installation and warranty work. In 2015-2018, PMT derived 74% of its profits from Yama Seiki sales. More than a year after Wang's “exclusive status” statement, PMT discovered that others were selling Yama Seiki machines in Wisconsin. PMT sued, alleging violations of Wisconsin’s Fair Dealership Law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Yama Seiki. PMT failed to show that it had any dealership agreement with Yama Seiki, much less an exclusive one. PMT never stocked any of its products, collected money for sales, or made more than de minimis use of Yama Seiki’s logos. View "PMT Machinery Sales, Inc. v. Yama Seiki USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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The debtor obtained a commercial loan from Bank. The agreement dated March 9, 2015, granted Bank a security interest in substantially all of the debtor’s assets, described in 26 categories of collateral, such as accounts, cash, equipment, instruments, goods, inventory, and all proceeds of any assets. Bank filed a financing statement with the Illinois Secretary of State, to cover “[a]ll Collateral described in First Amended and Restated Security Agreement dated March 9, 2015.” Two years later, the debtor defaulted and filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Bank sought to recover $7.6 million on the loan and filed a declaration that its security interest was properly perfected and senior to the interests of all other claimants. The trustee countered that the security interest was not properly perfected because its financing statement did not independently describe the underlying collateral, but instead incorporated the list of assets by reference, and cited 11 U.S.C. 544(a), which empowers a trustee to avoid interests in the debtor’s property that are unperfected as of the petition date. The bankruptcy court ruled that ”[a] financing statement that fails to contain any description of collateral fails to give the particularized kind of notice” required by UCC Article 9. The trustee sold the assets for $1.9 million and holds the proceeds pending resolution of this dispute. The Seventh Circuit reversed, citing the plain and ordinary meaning of the Illinois UCC statute, and how courts typically treat financing statements. View "First Midwest Bank v. Reinbold" on Justia Law

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The Mathews purchased an RV from a dealer which came with a warranty from the manufacturer, REV, which limited both express and implied warranties to one year from the purchase date. The warranty stated that “[i]f the repair or replacement remedy fails to successfully cure a defect after [REV] received a reasonable opportunity to cure the defect[], your sole and exclusive remedy shall be limited to Warrantor paying you the costs of having an independent third party perform repair(s).” The Mathews were told about the warranty when they bought the RV, but they were not initially given a hard copy. The Mathews say that they encountered problems with the RV almost immediately and several times thereafter. Dealerships completed some repairs; REV completed others and issued an extended goodwill warranty. The Mathews did not report all of the problems but eventually asked REV to buy back the RV. REV declined and they filed suit, alleging breaches of express and implied warranties and violations of the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act and the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act. They claimed that REV had failed to fix numerous problems,15 U.S.C. 2310(d)(1). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of REV. Although the Mathews “bought a lemon,” they have not shown that REV failed to honor its warranties or that the warranty provisions were unconscionable, View "Mathews v. REV Recreation Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Seattle’s Duncan Place condominium complex was built in 2009, with Danze faucets in all 63 units. The faucets’ water hoses can corrode and crack in normal use. Several faucets failed, causing property damage and replacement costs. Danze’s “limited lifetime warranty” promises to replace defective parts. Danze refused to repair or replace the faucets. The Owners Association filed suit on behalf of itself, unit owners, and a proposed nationwide class, asserting claims under Washington law. The judge rejected all claims, holding that Washington’s independent-duty doctrine barred claims of negligence and strict product liability; the unjust-enrichment claim was premised on fraud but did not satisfy the FRCP 9(b) heightened pleading requirements. A Washington claim for breach of an express warranty requires that the plaintiff was aware of the warranty. Duncan Place was unable to make that allegation in good faith with respect to any unit owners.The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The Washington Product Liability Act subsumes the negligence and strict-liability claims; the “independent duty doctrine” generally bars recovery in tort for direct and consequential economic losses stemming from the product’s failure (damages associated with the “injury” to the product itself) but does not bar recovery for damage to other property. Duncan Place alleged in general terms that the defective faucets caused damage to other condominium property, so the WPLA claim is not entirely blocked by the independent duty doctrine. View "Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sanchelima contracted to serve as Walker’s exclusive distributor of silos in 13 Latin American countries. Walker agreed not to sell silos directly to third parties in those countries. The contract contained a limited remedies provision and a damages disclaimer and was subject to Wisconsin law. Walker assigned a representative to work with Sanchelima, but otherwise did not market its products in the relevant countries. In 2014, Walker nonetheless sold silos for a factory in Mexico and to a Nicaraguan company. In 2015, Walker sold silos to a Mexican plant; in 2017, Walker sold tanks to a Mexican company. Sanchelima notified Walker that it considered the sales a breach of the agreement, then filed suit. Walker terminated the agreement without cause. Sanchelima sought lost profits of more than $600,000. Walker cited the limited remedies provision as an affirmative defense. It explicitly precludes recovery of “any lost profits … arising out of or in connection with the Distributor Agreement.” The district court held that provision violates Wisconsin’s version of the UCC 2‐719, Wis. Stat. 402.719: Where circumstances cause an exclusive or limited remedy to fail of its essential purpose, remedy may be had as provided in chs. 401 to 411... Consequential damages may be limited or excluded unless the limitation or exclusion is unconscionable. Because the limited remedy provision provided no relief for Walker’s breach of the exclusivity provision, the court held it failed of its essential purpose and awarded Sanchelima $778,306.70. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has interpreted UCC's limited remedy provisions; other states have interpreted those provisions differently. The Seventh Circuit declined to overturn state precedent as inconsistent with modern trends, “until and unless the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides to overturn it.” View "Sanchelima International, Inc. v. Walker Stainless Equipment Co., KKC" on Justia Law

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Kreg, a medical-supply company, contracted with VitalGo, maker of the Total Lift Bed®, for exclusive distribution rights in several markets. A year and a half later, the arrangement soured. VitalGo told Kreg that it had not made the minimum‐purchase commitments required by the contract for Kreg to keep its exclusivity. Kreg thought VitalGo was wrong on the facts and the contract’s requirements. The district court ruled, on summary‐judgment that VitalGo breached the agreement. The damages issue went to a bench trial, despite a last-minute request from VitalGo to have it dismissed on pleading grounds. The court ordered VitalGo to pay Kreg about $1,000,000 in lost‐asset damages and prejudgment interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the district court’s rulings that the agreement allowed Kreg to make minimum-purchase commitments orally; that the minimum‐purchase commitment for the original territories was made in December 2010; that VitalGo breached the agreement by terminating exclusivity in June 2011 and by failing to deliver beds in September 2011; and concerning the foreseeability of damages. View "Kreg Therapeutics, Inc. v. VitalGo, Inc." on Justia Law