Articles Posted in Business Law

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From 1910 until 1986, Greenlease Holding Co. (“Greenlease”), a subsidiary of the Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation (“Ampco”), owned a contaminated manufacturing site in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Trinity Industries, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Trinity Industries Railcar Co. (collectively, “Trinity”), acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. An investigation by Pennsylvania into Trinity’s waste disposal activities resulted in a criminal prosecution and eventual plea-bargained consent decree which required, in relevant part, that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. This appeal arose out of the district court’s determination that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”), Trinity was entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. The parties filed cross-appeals challenging a number of the district court’s rulings, including its ultimate allocation of cleanup costs. The Third Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court on several pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions, vacated the cost allocation determination and remanded for further proceedings. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania State Police employed Conard for 17 years as a 911 dispatcher. Conard left her employment in 2002 to move with her husband, who was on active military deployment. She had “outstanding personnel evaluations” but her supervisors, Tripp and Hile, had disagreements with Conard, arising from Conard’s earlier lawsuit. Conard returned to Pennsylvania in 2004 and reapplied for her position. The Police told Conard that she would be hired subject to a background check but ultimately did not offer her employment. Conard alleges that she was told that Hile and Tripp caused rejection of her application. Conard filed an administrative charge of gender discrimination, then filed her initial civil rights action, alleging retaliation. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. Conard alleges that in the following years, she was unable to obtain employment because the defendants gave prospective employers “negative, false, and defamatory” statements in response to reference requests and stated that “[she] was not eligible to return.” The district court held that most of Conard’s claims were barred, having been adjudicated in her prior action, and dismissed her retaliation claim. The Third Circuit reversed as to Conard’s First Amendment retaliation claim. The framework for First Amendment claims brought by government employees against their employers does not apply to Conard’s claim, because the speech which Conard alleges triggered the retaliation—filing administrative complaints and a lawsuit—occurred after she had left her employment. While significant time passed between Conard’s earlier complaint and the alleged retaliation, there is no bright-line rule for the time that may pass between protected speech and actionable retaliation. View "Conard v. Pennsylvania State Police" on Justia Law

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Devon, a Pennsylvania corporation, sells computer products; Bennett and DiRocco, a married couple, jointly own 100 percent of Devon’s shares as tenants by the entirety. In 2010, Devon obtained a contract from Dell. Devon contracted with Clientron, a Taiwanese company, to manufacture Dell's computers. Clientron shipped them directly to Dell; Dell paid Devon. Devon stopped paying Clientron entirely in 2012, owing over $6 million. Dell terminated its relationship with Devon, paying Devon $2 million, none of which reached Clientron. Pursuant to their contract, Clientron requested arbitration in Taiwan; arbitrators awarded Clientron $6.5 million. Clientron then sued Devon, Bennett, and DiRocco in Pennsylvania to enforce the award and seeking $14.3 million in damages for fraud and breach of contract. Clientron alleged that Devon was the alter ego of the couple. During discovery, the defendants continually failed to meet their obligations under the Federal Rules. The court entered sanctions, and instructed the jury that it was permitted, but not required, to make an adverse inference due to Devon' discovery conduct; the instruction did not reference Bennett or DiRocco. The jury found Devon liable for breach of contract and awarded Clientron an additional $737,018 in damages but rejected Clientron’s fraud claim and declined to pierce Devon’s corporate veil. Post-trial, the court pierced the veil to reach Bennett but not DiRocco, holding Bennett personally liable for the $737,018 damages award and the $44,320 monetary sanction earlier imposed on Devon; it did not make Bennett personally liable for the Taiwanese arbitration award. Devon is insolvent The Third Circuit vacated; the court committed legal error in piercing Devon’s veil to reach only Bennett and in holding Bennett personally liable for only part of the judgment. View "Clientron Corp. v. Devon IT Inc" on Justia Law

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Metro, a managing clerk at a New York City law firm, engaged in a five-year scheme in which he disclosed material nonpublic information concerning corporate transactions to his friend Tamayo. Tamayo told his stockbroker, Eydelman, who made trades for Tamayo, himself, his family, his friends, and other clients. Metro did not hold the involved stocks himself and did not collect proceeds but relied on Tamayo to reinvest the proceeds from their unlawful trades in future insider trading. During the government’s investigation, Tamayo promptly admitted his role in the scheme and cooperated with the government. The insider trading based on Metro’s tips resulted in illicit gains of $5,673,682. The court attributed that entire sum to Metro in determining his 46-month sentence after Metro pled guilty to conspiracy to violate securities laws, 18 U.S.C. 371, and insider trading, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b) and 78ff. Metro denies being aware of Eydelman’s existence until one year after he relayed his last tip to Tamayo, and contends that he never intended any of the tips to be passed to a broker or any other third party. The Third Circuit vacated the sentence. The district court failed to make sufficient factual findings to support the attribution of the full $5.6 million to Metro and gave too broad a meaning to the phrase “acting in concert.” View "United States v. Metro" on Justia Law

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Purchasers of egg products accused suppliers of conspiring to reduce the supply of eggs and increase the price for egg products in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. Plaintiffs alleged that the producers conspired to reduce the population of egg-laying hens, resulting in a reduced supply of eggs and, given the inelasticity of demand, supra-competitive prices. A trade association coordinated a certification program under which participants had to increase their cage sizes and not replace hens that died. Plaintiffs alleged that the proffered animal welfare rationale was a pretext to reduce supply. The district court, citing a bar on indirect purchaser actions, concluded that the purchaser-plaintiffs lacked standing. The Third Circuit reversed. As a matter of first impression, a direct purchaser of a product that includes a price-fixed input has antitrust standing to pursue a claim against the party that sold the product to the purchaser, where the seller is a participant in the price-fixing conspiracy, but the product also includes some price-fixed input supplied by a third-party non-conspirator. The direct relationship between the purchasers and their suppliers and the fact that the suppliers are alleged price-fixing conspirators, not merely competitors of those conspirators, are key factors. Regardless of who collected the overcharge, the purchasers’ econometric analysis purports to show the “difference between the actual [supracompetitive] price and the presumed competitive price” of the egg products they purchased. This purported difference, and the purchasers’ resulting injury, was allegedly a direct and intended result of the suppliers’ conspiracy. View "In Re: Processed Egg Products Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law

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Crystallex, a Canadian gold producer, owned the rights to Venezuela's Las Cristinas gold reserve. In 2011, Venezuela nationalized its gold mines and expropriated Crystallex’s rights. Crystallex initiated arbitration before the World Bank, claiming that Venezuela had violated a bilateral investment treaty with Canada. Venezuela was the sole defendant. The arbitrators found that Venezuela had breached the treaty and awarded Crystallex $1.202 billion. The district court confirmed the award (Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 1). Venezuela owns 100% of Petróleos de Venezuela, (PDVSA). PDVSA is allegedly Venezuela’s alter ego, a “national oil company through which Venezuela implements government policies.” PDVSA owns 100% of PDVH, which owns 100% of CITGO Holding, which owns 100% of CITGO Petroleum (Delaware corporations). Crystallex sued PDVH in Delaware, alleging that PDVH had violated the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act’s (DUFTA) prohibition against fraudulent transfers. The complaint alleged Venezuela orchestrated a series of debt offerings and asset transfers among PDVSA, PDVH, CITGO Holding, and CITGO Petroleum so that $2.8 billion in “dividends” ended up with PDVSA (Venezuela) outside the U.S. and could not be reached by Venezuela’s creditors. The court denied PDVH’s motion to dismiss, concluding that there had been a transfer “by a debtor.” The Third Circuit reversed, stating that it did not condone the debtor’s actions but that a transfer by a non-debtor (PDVH) cannot be a “fraudulent transfer” under DUFTA. View "Crystallex International Corp v. Petroleos de Venezuela SA" on Justia Law

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The Delaware Companies challenged Delaware’s right to audit whether funds paid for stored-value gift cards issued by their Ohio-based subsidiaries are held by the Companies and subject to escheatment. Their argument relied on Supreme Court precedent establishing priority among states competing to escheat abandoned property, giving first place to the state where the property owner was last known to reside. If that residence cannot be identified or if that state has disclaimed its interest, second in line is the state where the holder of the abandoned property is incorporated; any other state is preempted from escheating the property. The Companies argued that money left unclaimed by owners of the stored-value cards is held by the Ohio Subsidiaries, so Delaware can have no legitimate escheatment claim and must be barred from auditing the Companies in connection with the gift cards. The Third Circuit held that private parties can invoke federal common law to challenge a state’s authority to escheat property but agreed that dismissal was proper. “The notion that the State cannot conduct any inquiry into abandoned property to verify a Delaware corporation’s representations regarding abandoned property lacks merit” and, to the extent the Companies challenged the scope or means of the audit, the claim is not ripe, since Delaware has taken no formal steps to compel an audit. View "Marathon Petroleum Corp v. Secretary of Finance for the State of Delaware" on Justia Law

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McGann, who is blind and deaf, requested from Cinemark an American Sign Language (ASL) tactile interpreter so that he could experience a movie in his local Cinemark theater during one of its regular showings. Cinemark denied his request. McGann filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 ADA. After a bench trial in which the parties stipulated to all relevant facts, the district court entered Judgment in favor of Cinemark. It reasoned that McGann’s requested tactile interpreter was not an auxiliary aid or service under the ADA and that the ADA did not require movie theaters to change the content of their services or offer “special” services for disabled patrons. The Third Circuit vacated. The tactile interpreter McGann requested is an “auxiliary aid or service.” A a public accommodation may avoid ADA liability for failure to provide an auxiliary aid or service only if it shows that the aid or service in question “fundamentally alter[s] the nature” of its goods or services, or “would result in an undue burden, i.e., significant difficulty or expense.” The court remanded for consideration of CInemark’s possible defense. View "McGann v. Cinemark USA Inc" on Justia Law

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Titanium dioxide is a commodity-like product with no substitutes, the market is dominated by a few firms, and there are substantial barriers to entry. Valspar, a large-scale titanium dioxide purchaser, alleges that suppliers conspired to increase prices, beginning when DuPont—the largest American supplier—joined the Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association (TDMA) in 2002. DuPont then announced a price increase. Within two weeks, DuPont’s price increase was matched by other suppliers. During the next 12 years, the alleged conspirators announced price increases 31 times. Because Valspar claims it was overcharged by $176 million. In 2010, a class of titanium dioxide purchasers filed a price-fixing action. Valspar opted out of that class action, which settled. Valspar then filed its own claim and settled except against DuPont. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment in favor of DuPont. Valspar’s characterization of the suppliers’ price announcements “neglects the theory of conscious parallelism” and is contrary to the doctrine that in an oligopoly “any rational decision must take into account the anticipated reaction of the other . . . firms.” Price movement in an oligopoly is interdependent and frequently will lead to successive price increases, because oligopolists may “conclude that the industry as a whole would be better off by raising prices.” Valspar did not show that the suppliers’ parallel pricing went “beyond mere interdependence [and was] so unusual that in the absence of advance agreement, no reasonable firm would have engaged in it.” View "Valspar Corp v. E I Du Pont De Nemours & Co" on Justia Law

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When Eclipse, a jet aircraft manufacturer, declared bankruptcy in November 2008, it reached an agreement to sell the company to its largest shareholder, ETIRC, which would have allowed Eclipse to continue its operations. The sale required significant funding from VEB, a state-owned Russian Bank. The funding never materialized. For a month, Eclipse waited for the deal to go through with almost daily assurances that the funding was imminent. Delays were attributed to Prime Minister Putin needing “to think about it.” Eventually, Eclipse was forced to cease operations and notify its workers that a prior furlough had been converted into a layoff. Eclipse’s employees filed a class action complaint as an adversary proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court alleging that Eclipse’s failure to give them 60 days’ notice before the layoff violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, 29 U.S.C. 2101-2109, and asserting that Eclipse could invoke neither the Act’s “faltering company” exception nor its “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception. The Bankruptcy Court rejected the employees’ claims on summary judgment, holding that the “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception barred WARN Act liability. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Eclipse demonstrated that its closing was not probable until the day that it occurred. View "In re: AE Liquidation, Inc." on Justia Law