Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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Health benefit plans sued GSK, the manufacturer of the prescription drug Avandia, under state consumer-protection laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 (RICO), based on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as having benefits to justify its price, which was higher than the price of other drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes. The district court granted GSK summary judgment, finding that the state-law consumer-protection claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. ch. 9; the Plans had failed to identify a sufficient “enterprise” for purposes of RICO; and the Plans’ arguments related to GSK’s alleged attempts to market Avandia as providing cardiovascular “benefits” were “belated.” The Third Circuit reversed, applying the Supreme Court’s 2019 "Merck" decision. The state-law consumer-protection claims are not preempted by the FDCA. The Plans should have been given the opportunity to seek discovery before summary judgment on the RICO claims. Further, from the inception of this litigation, the Plans’ claims have centered on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as providing cardiovascular benefits as compared to other forms of treatment, so the district court’s refusal to consider the Plans’ “benefits” arguments was in error because those arguments were timely raised. View "In re: Avandia Marketing, Sales and Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Stonebridge, an engraver of promotional pocket knives, sued its former distributor Cutting-Edge and its members; competitor knife engraver TaylorMade and its sole member and manager Taylor, a former Stonebridge employee; and Massey, a TaylorMade employee and former Stonebridge employee, arising from Massey’s copying Stonebridge’s computer files and using those files to solicit business from Stonebridge customers. Stonebridge brought claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968; the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA), Ark. Code 4-88-101; and Arkansas common law. The district court partially found for Stonebridge on its fraud and conversion claims, dismissed the remaining eight claims, and denied the parties’ motions for attorney fees. The Eighth Circuit upheld: the finding that defendants converted the copies of certain files created by Stonebridge; an award of damages for unjust enrichment; a finding Stonebridge did not establish the existence of a business expectancy under Arkansas law; a finding Cutting-Edge fraudulently induced Stonebridge to send sample knives while intending to employ TaylorMade as its engraver on the orders placed as a result of seeing the samples; and dismissal of the RICO and ADTPA claims. View "Stonebridge Collection, Inc. v. Carmichael" on Justia Law

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The Halims own named WR Property Management. The company’s predecessor had contracted to buy natural gas from CES for the Halims’s 41 Chicago-area rental properties. CES delivered, but the company stopped paying and owed about $1.2 million when CES cut off service and filed suit. An Illinois court awarded $1.7 million, including interest and attorney fees. The company did not pay; the Halims had transferred all of its assets to WR. CES filed a diversity suit under the Illinois Fraudulent Transfer Act. The district court granted CES summary judgment and entered a final judgment for $2.7 million on fraudulent‐conveyance and successor‐liability claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating: “If the Halims are wise, they will start heeding the adage: if you’re in a hole, stop digging.” View "Centerpoint Energy Servs., Inc. v. WR Prop. Mgmt., LLC" on Justia Law

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Belmont did not pay subcontractors and suppliers on some projects. Gad, its CEO, disappeared. West Bend Mutual paid more than $2 million to satisfy Belmont’s obligations and has a judgment against Belmont, Gad, and Gizynski, who signed checks for more than $100,000 on Belmont’s account at U.S. Bank, payable to Banco Popular. Gizynski told Banco to apply the funds to his outstanding loan secured by commercial real estate. Banco had a mortgage and an assignment of rents and knew that Belmont was among Gizynski’s tenants; it did not become suspicious and did not ask Belmont how the funds were to be applied. Illinois law requires banks named as payees to ask the drawer how funds are to be applied. The district judge directed the parties to present evidence about how Belmont would have replied to a query from the Bank. Gizynski testified that Gad, as CEO, would have told the Bank to do whatever Gizynski wanted. The judge found Gizynski not credible, but that West Bend, as plaintiff, had the burden of production and the risk of non-persuasion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument based on fiduciary duty, but reversed an order requiring Banco to pay West Bend’s legal fees View "W. Bend Mut. Ins. Co v. Belmont St. Corp." on Justia Law

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Wyko sold parts to tire manufacturers, but in the U.S., provided parts for steel tire-assembly machines only for Goodyear. Wyko contracted with HaoHua, owned by the Chinese government, to supply parts unlike any it had previously built. Goodyear used machines like those Wyko needed. Goodyear asked Wyko to repair tire-assembly machines. Wyko sent engineers. Before their visit, both signed agreements that they might have access to trade secrets or other confidential information and that they would not disclose that information. A security guard reminded them that no cameras were allowed inside the factory. Unescorted for a few minutes, one engineer used his cell-phone camera to take photos that were forwarded to the design team. Wyko’s IT manager forwarded the e-mail to Goodyear. Goodyear notified the FBI. Convicted of theft of trade secrets (18 U.S.C. 1832(a)) and wire fraud (18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349), the engineers were sentenced to four months of home confinement, community service, and probation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions, rejecting an argument that the photographs did not meet the statutory definition because Goodyear did not take “reasonable measures” to protect secrecy. The court reversed the sentences because the court had not adequately explained its calculation of loss. View "United States v. Howley" on Justia Law

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Principals of Cybercos defrauded lending institutions out of more than $100 million in loan. In 2002, Huntington granted Cyberco a multi-million-dollar line of credit, and Cyberco granted Huntington a continuing security interest and lien in all of Cyberco's personal property, including deposit accounts. After discovering the fraud, the government seized approximately $4 million in Cyberco assets, including $705,168.60 from a Huntington Bank Account. Cyberco principals were charged in a criminal indictment with conspiring to violate federal laws relating to bank fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering. Count 10 issued forfeiture allegations against individuals regarding Cyberco assets, including the Account. In their plea agreements, defendants agreed to forfeit any interest they possessed in the assets or funds. The district court entered a preliminary order of forfeiture with regard to the assets, including the Account. Huntington filed a claim, asserting ownership interest in the forfeited Account. The district court found that Huntington did not have a legal claim. On remand, the district court again denied the claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A party who takes a security interest in property, tangible or intangible, in exchange for value, can be a bona fide purchaser for value of that property interest under 21 U.S.C. 853(n)(6)(B). View "United States v. Huntington Nat'l Bank" on Justia Law

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The title company provided real estate closing services. From 1984 through 1995, it served as exclusive agent for defendant and managed an escrow account that defendant contractually agreed to insure. The title company was not profitable and its managers used escrow funds in a "Ponzi" scheme. In 1989, there was a $26 million shortfall. To fill the hole, the managers began looting another business, Intrust, to pay defendant's policyholders ($40.9 million) and to pay defendant directly ($27 million), so that defendant was a direct and indirect beneficiary of the title company's arrangement with Intrust. In 2000 the state agency learned that the funds were missing, took control of Intrust and placed it in receivership. In July 2010, the Receiver filed suit for money had and received, unjust enrichment, vicarious liability), aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and conspiracy. The district court dismissed based on the statute of limitations. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Illinois doctrine of adverse domination does not apply. That doctrine tolls the statute of limitations for a claim by a corporation against a nonboard-member co-conspirator of the wrongdoing board members. View "Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Serv. Corp." on Justia Law

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First National Keystone Bank retained an independent accounting firm to audit its records at a time that members of the bank's management were fraudulently concealing the bank's financial condition. The accounting firm issued a clean audit concerning the bank. It was later discovered that the bank had overstated its assets by over $500 million. Upon investigation, the FDIC concluded that the law firm that represented the bank had engaged in legal malpractice. The FDIC settled its claims against the law firm. The accounting firm was later found liable to the FDIC in federal district court for a negligent bank audit. The accounting firm subsequently sued the law firm, alleging fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and tortious interference with the accounting firm's contract to perform the audit. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the law firm. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the claims of the accounting firm against the law firm were, in reality, contribution claims rather than direct or independent claims and were, therefore, barred by the settlement agreement between the law firm and the FDIC. View "Grant Thornton, LLP v. Kutak Rock, LLP" on Justia Law

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In 1991, Carpenter pled guilty to aggravated theft and bank fraud. He served jail time and was disbarred. Between 1998 and 2000, he ran a Ponzi scheme, selling investments in sham companies, promising a guaranteed return. A class action resulted in a judgment of $15,644,384 against Carpenter. Plaintiffs then sued drawee banks, alleging that they violated the UCC "properly payable rule" by paying checks plaintiffs wrote to sham corporations, and depositary banks, alleging that they violated the UCC and committed fraud by depositing checks into accounts for fraudulent companies. The district court dismissed some claims as time-barred and some for failure to state a claim. After denying class certification, the court granted defendant summary judgment on the conspiracy claim, based on release of Carpenter in earlier litigation; a jury ruled in favor of defendant on aiding and abetting. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Claims by makers of the checks are time-barred; the "discovery" rule does not apply and would not save the claims. Ohio "Blue Sky" laws provide the limitations period for fraud claims, but those claims would also be barred by the common law limitations period. The district court retained subject matter jurisdiction to rule on other claims, following denial of class certification under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d).

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The owner of a mortgage company was sentenced to 96 months for fraud and money laundering. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the conviction was supported by substantial evidence. Evidence of a government witness's prior inconsistent statements that referred to a conviction more than 10 years prior was properly excluded; the trial judge gave the defense proper latitude to impeach the witness. The sentence was properly enhanced for attempting to obstruct the investigation, use of "sophisticated means," and acting as the organizer or leader.