Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law

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In 2010, EFIH borrowed $4 billion at a 10% interest rate, issuing notes secured by its assets; the Indenture states that EFIH may redeem the notes for the principal amount plus a “make-whole premium” and accrued, unpaid interest. It contains an acceleration provision that makes “all outstanding Notes . . . due and payable immediately” if EFIH files for bankruptcy. Interest rates dropped. Refinancing outside of bankruptcy would have required EFIH to pay the make-whole premium. EFIH disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission a “proposal [whereby] . . . EFIH would file for bankruptcy and refinance the notes without paying any make-whole amount.” EFIH later filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions, seeking leave to borrow funds to pay off the notes and to offer a settlement to note-holders who agreed to waive the make-whole. The Trustee sought a declaration that refinancing would trigger the make-whole premium and that it could rescind the acceleration without violating the automatic stay. The Bankruptcy Court granted EFIH’s motion to refinance. EFIH paid off the notes and refinanced at a much lower interest rate; the make-whole would have been approximately $431 million. The Bankruptcy Court and district court concluded that no make-whole premium was due and that the noteholders could not rescind acceleration. The Third Circuit reversed. The premium, meant to give the lenders the interest yield they expect, does not fall away because the full principal amount becomes due and the noteholders are barred from rescinding acceleration of debt. View "In re: Energy Future Holdings Corp." on Justia Law

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A large communications equipment manufacturer, Avaya, and its dealer and service provider, TLI had a falling out. Avaya subsequently aggressively acted to block TLI from providing independent maintenance services for Avaya equipment. Meanwhile, the newly-independent TLI took various “legally dubious actions” to gain access to Avaya communications systems used by clients the parties once shared. Avaya filed suit, alleging several business torts and breach of contract; TLI counter-sued for antitrust violations. After years of pre-trial litigation, and in the midst of a months-long trial, the district court granted TLI’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on all of Avaya’s affirmative claims. The court later instructed the jury that none of TLI’s actions could be considered unlawful. The jury found Avaya liable for two antitrust violations and awarded substantial damages. The Third Circuit vacated. Given how intertwined the two sides’ claims are, and given that Avaya’s antitrust defense relied in large part on justifying Avaya’s conduct as a response to TLI’s conduct, the erroneous Rule 50 judgment infected the jury’s verdict. View "Avaya Inc v. Telecom Labs Inc" on Justia Law

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Jani-King, the world’s largest commercial cleaning franchisor, classifies its franchisees as independent contractors. Its cleaning contracts are between Jani-King and the customer; the franchisee is not a party, but may elect to provide or not provide services under a contract. Jani-King exercises a significant amount of control over how franchisees operate and controls billing and accounting. Two Jani-King franchisees assert that they are misclassified and should be treated as employees. On behalf of a class of Jani-King franchisees in the Philadelphia area (approximately 300 franchisees), they sought unpaid wages under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law (WPCL), 43 Pa. Stat. 260.1–260.12. The Third Circuit affirmed certification of the class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f). The misclassification claim can be made on a class-wide basis through common evidence, primarily the franchise agreement and manuals. Under Pennsylvania law, no special treatment is accorded to the franchise relationship. A franchisee may be an employee or an independent contractor depending on the nature of the franchise system controls. View "Williams v. Jani-King of Philadelphia Inc" on Justia Law

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The members of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PPUC) and Core Communications, Inc., appealed a District Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of AT&T Corp. Core billed AT&T for terminating phone calls from AT&T’s customers to Core’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) customers from 2004 to 2009. When AT&T refused to pay, Core filed a complaint with the PPUC, which ruled in Core’s favor. AT&T then filed suit in federal court seeking an injunction on the ground that the PPUC lacked jurisdiction over ISP-bound traffic because such traffic is the exclusive province of the Federal Communications Commission. After review of the matter, the Third Circuit found that the FCC’s jurisdiction over local ISP-bound traffic was not exclusive and the PPUC orders did not conflict with federal law. As such, the Court vacated the District Court’s order and remanded this case for entry of judgment in favor of Core and the members of the PPUC. View "AT&T Corp v. Core Communications Inc" on Justia Law

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Hanover Realty contracted with Wegmans to develop a supermarket on its New Jersey property, requiring Hanover to secure necessary permits and approvals before breaking ground. ShopRite and its development subsidiary filed administrative and court challenges to Hanover’s applications. Believing these filings were baseless and intended only to frustrate the entry of a competitor, Hanover sued for antitrust violations. The district court dismissed, holding that Hanover did not have standing because it was not a competitor, consumer, or participant in the restrained markets and did not sustain the type of injury the antitrust laws were intended to prevent. The Third Circuit vacated with respect to the claim for attempted monopolization of the market for full-service supermarkets. Hanover can establish that its injury was “inextricably intertwined” with defendants’ anti-competitive conduct. Hanover sufficiently alleged that the petitioning activity at issue was undertaken without regard to the merits of the claims and for the purpose of using the governmental process to restrain trade, so that defendants are not protected by Noerr-Pennington immunity because their conduct falls within the exception for sham litigation. The court affirmed as to the claim for attempted monopolization of the rental space market; there was no standing because Hanover does not compete with defendants in that market. View "Hanover 3201 Realty LLC v. Vill. Supermarkets, Inc." on Justia Law

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The U.S. chocolate market is dominated by three companies: Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé USA (the Chocolate Manufacturers). A certified class of direct purchasers of chocolate products and a group of individual plaintiffs alleged that the Chocolate Manufacturers conspired to raise prices on chocolate candy products in the United States three times between 2002 and 2007. They offered evidence of a contemporaneous antitrust conspiracy in Canada. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the Canadian conspiracy evidence was ambiguous and did not support an inference of a U.S. conspiracy because the people involved in and the circumstances surrounding the Canadian conspiracy are different from those involved in and surrounding the purported U.S. conspiracy; evidence that the U.S. Chocolate Manufacturers knew of the unlawful Canadian conspiracy was weak and, in any event, related only to Hershey. Other traditional conspiracy evidence was insufficient to create a reasonable inference of a U.S. price-fixing conspiracy. View "In re: Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litig." on Justia Law

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Brand developed Thermablaster, a vent-free heater, to be manufactured by a Chinese company, Reecon. Reecon suggested using Intertek testing to ensure the heaters met U.S. safety standards. Brand spoke with Intertek representatives and visited the company’s website to ensure that Intertek could test to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. Satisfied that Intertek’s China facility had the necessary expertise, Brand allowed Reecon to use Intertek for testing against the most recent applicable ANSI standard. The $22,000 testing cost was part of the per-unit price. Ace Hardware agreed to pay Brand $467,000 for 3,980 Thermablasters. Brand visited China to monitor production. Reecon gave Brand an Intertek document signed by its engineers, showing that the heaters had passed all relevant tests. Brand bought 5,500 heaters and delivered them to Ace. Ace began selling the heaters in 2011 but halted sales permanently after learning from a competitor that they did not meet ANSI standards. Ace obtained a default judgment of $611,060 against Brand. Brand sued Intertek. Intertek countersued, alleging trademark infringement because Brand had placed Intertek’s testing certification mark on boxes before receiving permission. Intertek bought Ace’s judgment against Brand for $250,000 and aggressively tried to collect before trial. The Third Circuit affirmed a verdict finding Intertek liable to Brand for negligent misrepresentation and awarding Brand $1,045,000 in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages. View "Brand Mktg. Grp. LLC v. Intertek Testing Servs. NA" on Justia Law

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Zell orchestrated a leveraged buy-out (LBO) of the Tribune Company, which published the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. In an LBO, a purchaser acquires an entity using debt secured by assets of the acquired entity. The transaction saddled the company with an additional $8 billion of debt. Tribune subsidiaries guaranteed the LBO debt. The holders of pre-LBO debt had recourse only against Tribune, not against the subsidiaries. Tribune sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008. Aurelius, a hedge fund specializing in distressed debt, bought $2 billion of the pre-LBO debt and participated in the bankruptcy. The Committee of Unsecured Creditors obtained permission to pursue claims of breach of fiduciary duty and fraudulent conveyance against the LBO lenders, directors and officers of old Tribune, and Zell. The Bankruptcy Court discussed possible plans at length, concluding that it was uncertain that litigation would result in full avoidance of the LBO, the only result that could result in greater recovery than settlement. A plan was confirmed over Aurelius’s objection. A requested stay was conditioned on Aurelius posting a $1.5 billion bond. Aurelius was unsuccessful in obtaining expedited review. The plan was consummated. Appeals were dismissed as equitably moot. The Third Circuit agreed that Aurelius’s appeal, which sought to undo the crucial component of the consummated plan, was moot, but reversed with respect to trustees representing pre-LBO debt, who sought disgorgement from other creditors of $30 million; their requested relief would neither jeopardize the $7.5 billion plan of reorganization nor harm third parties who have justifiably relied on plan confirmation. View "In re: Tribune Media Co." on Justia Law

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Kivisto, co-founder and former President and CEO of SemCrude, an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, allegedly drove SemCrude into bankruptcy through his self-dealing and speculative trading strategies. SemCrude’s Litigation Trust sued Kivisto, and the parties reached a settlement agreement and granted a mutual release of all claims. A month later, a group of SemCrude’s former limited partners (Oklahoma Plaintiffs) sued Kivisto in state court, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud. The Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware granted Kivisto’s emergency motion to enjoin the state action, finding that the Oklahoma Plaintiffs’ claims derived from the Litigation Trust’s claims. The district court reversed, concluding that the claims were possibly direct and remanded. The Third Circuit concluded that the claims are derivative and reversed. Even if Kivisto owed the Oklahoma Plaintiffs unique, individual fiduciary duties in addition to the duties owed to them as unitholders, they could show neither that they were injured separately from the company or all other unitholders on the basis of that misconduct, nor that they were entitled to recovery of the units they allegedly would not have contributed or would have sold but for Kivisto’s misconduct. View "In re: Semcrude L.P." on Justia Law

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Trinity, a New York Episcopal parish, owns Wal-Mart stock and requested that Wal-Mart include its shareholder proposal in Wal-Mart’s proxy materials. Trinity’s proposal, linked to Wal-Mart’s sale of high-capacity firearms at about one-third of its 3,000 stores, asked Board of Directors to develop and implement standards for use in deciding whether to sell a product that “especially endangers public safety,” “has the substantial potential to impair the reputation of Wal-Mart,” and/or “would reasonably be considered by many offensive to the family and community values integral to the Company’s promotion of its brand.” The Securities and Exchange Commission’s “ordinary business” exclusion lets a company omit a shareholder proposal from proxy materials if the proposal relates to ordinary business operations. Wal-Mart obtained a “no-action letter” from the SEC, indicating that there would be no recommendation of an enforcement action against Wal-Mart if it omitted the proposal from its proxy materials. Trinity filed suit. The district court held that, because the proposal concerned the company’s Board (rather than management) and focused principally on governance (rather than how Wal-Mart decides what to sell), it was outside ordinary business operations. The Third Circuit reversed. “Stripped to its essence, Trinity’s proposal goes to the heart of Wal-Mart’s business: what it sells on its shelves.” View "Trinity Wall Street v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc" on Justia Law