Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Electronic Merchant Systems LLC v. Gaal
In 2014, EMS entered into a payment processing agreement with Procom, a business owned by Gaal that sold historical tours. The Agreement was executed by Gaal, who signed a personal-guaranty provision. It contained terms relating to “chargebacks,” which occurred when a Procom customer’s transaction was declined or canceled after EMS had credited Procom’s account for the purchase; EMS repaid the money to the Procom customer, then charged Procom for that money plus a fee. In 2019, EMS and Procom executed a second agreement, which contained an explicit integration clause; the guaranty provision was not signed by Gaal but by another Procom employee. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many customers canceled purchases with Procom, resulting in $10 million in chargebacks. Procom is involved in Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. EMS filed a creditor’s proof of claim and sued Gaal. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim, finding that the 2019 Agreement superseded the 2014 agreement “in all material respects,” including replacing Gaal’s guaranty.The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, upholding the district court’s consideration of the bankruptcy filing for purposes of determining when chargebacks occurred and its finding that the 2019 Agreement replaced the 2014 Agreement rather than merely supplementing it. The court reversed in part, holding that any chargeback related to transactions occurring before the execution of the 2019 Agreement arose under the 2014 Agreement. View "Electronic Merchant Systems LLC v. Gaal" on Justia Law
Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co. Inc. v. Jarrow Formulas, Inc.
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
Stackpole International Engineered Products, Ltd.. v. Angstrom Automotive Group, LLC
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
United Food & Commercial Workers v. Kroger Co.
KLPI operates Kroger grocery stores throughout Tennessee. KLPI has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Union, which represents all retail employees in different retail-store configurations. The Union immediately represents the employees in any new KLPI store. In 2020, Kroger’s “Supply Chain Division” opened the Knoxville Local Fulfillment Center. After the warehouse opened, the Union filed a grievance, claiming that the Union represented employees at that facility—which the Union called the “Knoxville eCommerce Store.” The Union described how warehouse employees fill orders placed by Walgreens pharmacies and that employees who pick and deliver these orders perform “fundamental[ly] bargaining[-]unit work” like unionized employees at KLPI’s grocery stores. KLPI refused to process the grievance for itself or Kroger, claiming that the Center is a warehouse, not a grocery store, and is part of Kroger’s “supply chain network,” independent from KLPI’s retail stores; KLPI has no relationship with Fulfillment Center employees.The Union pursued arbitration under the CBA. KLPI refused to arbitrate. The district court determined the Union’s claim was arbitrable under the CBA but Kroger was not a party to the CBA; KLPI was ordered to arbitrate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The grievance falls within the scope of the CBA’s arbitration agreement, which does not prevent the possible inference that the fulfillment center and its employees are covered by the CBA. View "United Food & Commercial Workers v. Kroger Co." on Justia Law
Product Solutions International, Inc. v. Aldez Containers, LLC
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
NOCO Co. v. OJ Commerce, LLC
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
Long v. Piercy
Long and the Piercys operated a Tennessee quarry. Their agreement was silent as to whether their division of “profit” would be based on gross profit after payment of a royalty or net profit after payment of the royalty plus other costs. Based on the division of labor and respective contributions, Long believed that the four individuals should receive equal shares of the gross profit. When Long complained, the Piercys padlocked him off the property and threatened to call the sheriff, then stopped paying Long. A state court chancellor found that Long was entitled to the difference between what the Piercys had paid him and what Long should have received ($151,670.87) but rejected Long’s claim for lost anticipated profits, declining to find that the Piercys breached the partnership agreement but assessing costs against the Piercys.The Piercys sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief. Long initiated adversary proceedings, seeking a declaration that the judgment was nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(4) for debts incurred by embezzlement, or through defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity. The Sixth Circuit reversed the bankruptcy court and district court. Long’s state-court judgment may be declared nondischargeable if Long can produce evidence of wrongful intent. The state-court judgment is unclear as to the basis for its relief and does not preclude a finding of fraud. Under the Tennessee Revised Uniform Partnership Act, partners owe each other fiduciary duties. View "Long v. Piercy" on Justia Law
Lakeside Surfaces, Inc. v. Cambria Co., LLC
Lakeside, a Michigan corporation, fabricates stone countertops in Michigan. Cambria a Minnesota LLC, is a nationwide manufacturer of countertop products. Lakeside buys “solid surface products” from manufacturers like Cambria. In 2011, the two companies executed a Business Partner Agreement (BPA) including a Credit Agreement, a Security Agreement, Order Terms and Conditions, Lifetime Limited Warranty, and a Business Operating Requirements Manual Acknowledgment Form. The BPA’s choice-of-law provision and forum-selection clause, in a single paragraph, state: This agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Minnesota. Any proceeding involving this Agreement and/or any claims or disputes relating to the agreements and transactions between the parties shall be in the ... State of Minnesota. Pursuant to the BPA, Lakeside opened a fabrication facility in 2017. Discussions about Lakeside becoming Cambria’s sole Michigan fabricator led to Lakeside terminating the relationship.Lakeside filed suit in the Western District of Michigan, alleging breach of contract, violations of the Michigan Franchise Investment Law (MFIL), UCC violations, and promissory estoppel. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, finding the forum-selection clause unenforceable. MFIL’s prohibition on forum-selection clauses is a strong Michigan public policy and enforcing the forum-selection clause here would clearly contravene that policy. The MFIL claim is not Lakeside’s only claim, and the choice-of-law provision may be applied, as appropriate, to claims within its scope. View "Lakeside Surfaces, Inc. v. Cambria Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Bash v. Textron Financial Corp.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision rejecting the bankruptcy trustee's efforts seeking to avoid payments from Fair Finance to Textron as fraudulent transfers under Ohio's Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (OUFTA).The court concluded that the district court correctly rejected the trustee's bad-faith-invalidation argument at summary judgment. In this case, Textron's actions did not render its perfected interest ineffective against the holder of a judicial lien subsequently obtained in a hypothetical UCC priority contest. Therefore, Textron enjoyed a valid lien under OUFTA. The court explained that its conclusion is grounded in the nature of the UCC's priority test as well as critical distinctions between normal priority disputes and the OUFTA valid-lien test. The court also concluded that loan payments encumbered by the perfected 2002 security interest are not transfers under OUFTA and thus cannot be avoided as fraudulent transfers. The court disagreed with the trustee that the jury erred in determining that the 2004 changes did not amount to a novation and concluded that, to the extent there was an error in the jury instruction, it was harmless. The court rejected the trustee's additional argument to the contrary. View "Bash v. Textron Financial Corp." on Justia Law
Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp.
Zen-Noh purchased grain shipments. Sellers were required to prepay barge freight and deliver the product to Zen-Noh’s terminal but were not required to use any specific delivery company. Ingram, a carrier, issued the sellers negotiable bills of lading, defining the relationships of the consignor (company arranging shipment), the consignee (to receive delivery), and the carrier. Printed on each bill was an agreement to "Terms” and a link to the Terms on Ingram’s website. Those Terms purport to bind any entity that has an ownership interest in the goods and included a forum selection provision selecting the Middle District of Tennessee.Ingram updated its Terms and alleges that it notified Zen-Noh through an email to CGB, which it believed was “closely connected with Zen-Noh,” often acting on Zen-Noh's behalf in dealings related to grain transportation. Weeks after the email, Zen-Noh sent Ingram an email complaining about invoices for which it did not believe it was liable. Ingram replied with a link to the Terms. Zen-Noh answered that it was “not party to the barge affreightment contract as received in your previous email.” The grains had been received by Zen-Noh, which has paid Ingram penalties related to delayed loading or unloading but has declined to pay Ingram's expenses involving ‘fleeting,’ ‘wharfage,’ and ‘shifting.’” Ingram filed suit in the Middle District of Tennessee. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Zen-Noh was neither a party to nor consented to Ingram’s contract and is not bound to the contract’s forum selection clause; the district court did not have jurisdiction over Zen-Noh. View "Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp." on Justia Law