Justia Commercial Law Opinion Summaries
McIntosh v. Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
Plaintiff’s class action complaint alleged that Walgreens violated the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, 815 ILCS 505/1, by unlawfully collecting a municipal tax imposed by Chicago on purchases of bottled water that were exempt from taxation under the ordinance. The circuit court dismissed the action, citing the voluntary payment doctrine, which provides that money voluntarily paid with full knowledge of the facts cannot be recovered on the ground that the claim for payment was illegal. The appellate court reversed, reasoning that the complaint pleaded that the unlawful collection of the bottled water tax was a deceptive act under the Consumer Fraud Act. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal, first holding that claims under the Consumer Fraud Act are not categorically exempt from the voluntary payment doctrine. The court rejected an argument that the receipt issued by Walgreens constituted a representation that the tax was required by the ordinance. Misrepresentations or mistakes of law cannot form the basis of a claim for fraud. View "McIntosh v. Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc." on Justia Law
Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc.
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
Posted in: Business Law, Commercial Law, Products Liability, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Fox v. Amazon.com, Inc.
Fox used Amazon.com to order a hoverboard equipped with a battery pack. Although Fox claims she thought she was buying from Amazon, the hoverboard was owned and sold by a third-party that used Amazon marketplace, which handles communications with the buyer and processes payments. The board arrived in an Amazon-labeled box. The parties dispute whether Amazon provided storage and shipment. In November 2015, following news reports of hoverboard fires and explosions, Amazon began an investigation. On December 11, Amazon ceased all hoverboard sales worldwide. Approximately 250,000 hoverboards had been sold on its marketplace in the previous 30 days. Amazon anticipated more fires and explosions, scheduling employees to work on December 26, to monitor news reports and customer complaints. On December 12, Amazon sent a "non-alarmist" email to hoverboard purchasers. Fox does not recall receiving the email but testified that she would not have let the hoverboard remain in her home had she known all the facts. On January 9, Matthew Fox played with the hoverboard and left it on the first floor of the family’s two-story home. When a fire later broke out, caused by the hoverboard’s battery pack, two children were trapped on the second floor. Everyone escaped with various injuries; their home was destroyed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of allegations that Amazon sold the defective or unreasonably dangerous product (Tennessee Products Liability Act) and caused confusion about the source of that product (Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977) but reversed a claim that Amazon breached a duty to warn about the defective or unreasonably dangerous nature of that product under Tennessee tort law. View "Fox v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Commercial Law, Personal Injury, Products Liability, US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
JCB, Inc. v. Horsburgh & Scott Co.
The Supreme Court accepted two questions of Texas law certified to it from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concerning the damages and attorney's fees available under the Texas Sales Representative Act, chapter 54 of the Business and Commerce Code, Tex. Bus. & Com. Code 54.001-.006. The Court answered (1) the time for determining the existence and amount of "unpaid commission due" under section 54.001(1) is the time of the jury or trial court determines the liability the defendant, whether at trial or through another dispositive trial-court process such as summary judgment; and (2) a plaintiff may recover attorney's fees and costs under section 54.004(2) even if the plaintiff does not receive treble damages if the fact-finder determines that the fees and costs were reasonably incurred under the circumstances. View "JCB, Inc. v. Horsburgh & Scott Co." on Justia Law
Christman v. Clause
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment in this case alleging a violation of Article 9A of Montana's adopted version of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), holding that the district court erred when it concluded that Article 9 no longer applied to the agreement between the parties. Plaintiffs and Defendants entered into an installment sale contract and security agreement to buy a mobile home. When Plaintiffs continually missed payments on the mobile home Defendants sent a notice of default and then demanded the outstanding balance on the agreement. Plaintiffs moved out of the mobile home and voluntarily returned it to Defendants. After Defendants sold the mobile home to a new buyer Plaintiffs brought suit alleging that Defendants violated provision of Article 9A. The district court denied Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there were no genuine issues of material fact as to Defendants' UCC violations, and Plaintiffs were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that issue. View "Christman v. Clause" on Justia Law
Apple, Inc. v. Pepper
Apple sells iPhone applications (apps) directly to iPhone owners through its App Store—the only place where iPhone owners may lawfully buy apps. Most apps are created by independent developers under contracts with Apple. Apple charges the developers a $99 annual membership fee, allows them to set the retail price of the apps, and charges a 30% commission on every app sale. Four iPhone owners sued, alleging that Apple has unlawfully monopolized the aftermarket for iPhone apps. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit concluding that the owners were direct purchasers under the Supreme Court’s “Illinois Brick” precedent. The Supreme Court affirmed. The Clayton Act provides that “any person who shall be injured in his business or property by reason of anything forbidden in the antitrust laws may sue,” 15 U.S.C. 15(a), and readily covers consumers who purchase goods or services at higher-than-competitive prices from an allegedly monopolistic retailer. While indirect purchasers who are two or more steps removed from the violator in a distribution chain may not sue, the iPhone owners are not consumers at the bottom of a vertical distribution chain who are attempting to sue manufacturers at the top of the chain. The absence of an intermediary in the distribution chain between Apple and the consumer is dispositive. The Court rejected an argument that Illinois Brick allows consumers to sue only the party who sets the retail price. Apple’s interpretation would contradict the long-standing goal of effective private enforcement and consumer protection in antitrust cases. Illinois Brick is not a get-out-of-court-free card for monopolistic retailers any time that a damages calculation might be complicated. View "Apple, Inc. v. Pepper" on Justia Law
Hutzenbiler v. RJC Investment, Inc.
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim to an accounting and recovery of surplus proceeds on the resale of her mobile home after she returned it to RJC Investment, Inc. holding that the district court erred in holding that Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) was inapplicable in this case. Plaintiff entered into an installment sale contract and security agreement to purchase a mobile home. The contract was assigned to RJC. Plaintiff later allowed RJC to take possession of the mobile home and signed a full release of contract relinquishing all rights to the mobile home. After RJC resold the mobile home RJC failed to provide an accounting of the sale and did not refund any surplus to Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued RJC. The district court granted summary judgment for RJC. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the release between Plaintiff and RJC did not terminate application of the UCC's requirement for an accounting and surplus after RJC sold the collateral; (2) the district court erred in granting RJC summary judgment on the ground that RJC satisfied the elements of the acceptance of collateral in full satisfaction pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 30-9A-620; and (3) RJC was not entitled to summary judgment on other grounds. View "Hutzenbiler v. RJC Investment, Inc." on Justia Law
Goran Pleho, LLC v. Lacy
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) partially vacating the circuit court's judgment entering judgment against Plaintiffs in this action alleging that Defendants intentionally misrepresented the value of a limousine service, holding that some of the rulings of the trial court in this complex commercial dispute involving the sale of the business were in error. The Lacy Parties represented Goran and Ana Maria Pleho in purchasing the business. The transaction was completed in the name of Goran PLeho LLC (GPLLC). After the purchase, the Plehos and GPLLC (collectively, Pleho Parties) sued, alleging that Lacy Parties intentionally misrepresented the value of the business. The Supreme Court (1) vacated the circuit court's dismissal of Pleho Parties' intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims and the court's grant of judgment as a matter of law in favor of Lacy Parties on GPLLC's fraud and punitive damages claims; (2) vacated the ICA's judgment to the extent that it vacated the circuit court's order denying Lacy Parties' motion in limine; and (3) vacated the ICA's judgment to the extent that it affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Lacy Parties on the Pleho's unfair and deceptive trade practices claim. View "Goran Pleho, LLC v. Lacy" on Justia Law
Sanchelima International, Inc. v. Walker Stainless Equipment Co., KKC
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
Fishback Nursery, Inc. v. PNC Bank
This case involved a lien contest among three creditors of a bankrupt commercial farm. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for PNC and found no error in the district court's ruling that the Nurseries' liens were not senior to PNC's lien on the bankrupt company's assets. The court held that the district court correctly rejected the Nurseries' argument that any choice of law provision in the Fishback-BFN contracts should control the law applicable to the Nurseries' lien dispute with PNC; the Nurseries failed to show that the district court misapplied either the Texas or federal choice-of-law rules; and Fishback failed to comply, substantially or otherwise, with Oregon’s notice requirement via a UCC financing statement. View "Fishback Nursery, Inc. v. PNC Bank" on Justia Law