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

Articles Posted in Business Law
by
Ezaki, a Japanese confectionery company, makes and sells “Pocky,” thin, stick-shaped cookies that are partly coated with chocolate or flavored cream. The end of each is left partly uncoated to serve as a handle. In 1978, Ezaki started selling Pocky in the U.S. and began registering U.S. trademarks and patents. It has two Pocky product configurations registered as trade dresses and has a patent for a “Stick Shaped Snack and Method for Producing the Same.” In 1983, the Lotte confectionery company started making Pepero stick-shaped cookies partly coated in chocolate or flavored cream. Pepero “looks remarkably like Pocky.”In 1993-1995, Ezaki sent letters, notifying Lotte of its registered trade dress and asking it to cease and desist. Ezaki took no further action until 2015, when it sued, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition, under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125(a)(1)(A). Under New Jersey law, it alleged trademark infringement and unfair competition. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Lotte, holding that because Pocky’s product configuration is functional, it is not protected as trade dress. Trade dress is limited to features that identify a product’s source. Patent law protects useful inventions, but trademark law does not. View "Ezaki Gliko Kabushiki Kaisha v. Lotte International America Corp." on Justia Law

by
Two doctors and a former pharmaceutical sales representative formed a partnership, JKJ, to sue several pharmaceutical companies as a qui tam relator under the False Claims Act with respect to the marketing of the anti-clotting drug, Plavix. When one of them left the partnership and was replaced, that change amounted to forming a new partnership. The defendant’s moved to dismiss because the Act’s first-to-file bar stops a new “person” from “interven[ing] or bring[ing] a related action based on the [same] facts,” 31 U.S.C. 3730(b)(5).The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal, after noting responses by the Delaware Supreme Court to certified questions indicating that the two partnerships were distinct. The verb “intervene” means to inject oneself between two existing parties, as under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24. The new partnership did not do that but instead came in as the relator. The district court ruling was based mainly on a dictum from a Supreme Court case on a very different issue and never considered the issue here. The Act’s plain text bars only intervention or bringing a related suit. View "In Re: Plavix Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

by
Two counties sued Sherwin-Williams in state court, seeking abatement of the public nuisance caused by lead-based paint. Anticipating suits by other counties, Sherwin-Williams sued in federal court under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Sherwin-Williams claimed that “[i]t is likely that the fee agreement between [Delaware County] and the outside trial lawyers [is] or will be substantively similar to an agreement struck by the same attorneys and Lehigh County to pursue what appears to be identical litigation” and that “the Count[y] ha[s] effectively and impermissibly delegated [its] exercise of police power to the private trial attorneys” by vesting the prosecutorial function in someone who has a financial interest in using the government’s police power to hold a defendant liable. The complaint pleaded a First Amendment violation, citing the company’s membership in trade associations, Sherwin-Williams’ purported petitioning of federal, state, and local governments, and its commercial speech. The complaint also argued that the public nuisance theory would seek to impose liability “that is grossly disproportionate,” arbitrary, retroactive, vague, and “after an unexplainable, prejudicial, and extraordinarily long delay, in violation of the Due Process Clause.”The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Sherwin-Williams failed to plead an injury in fact or a ripe case or controversy because the alleged harms hinged on the County actually filing suit. View "Sherwin Williams Co. v. County of Delaware" on Justia Law

by
The Council handles contracts for over 200 New Jersey municipalities, police departments, and school districts. Mid-American sells bulk road salt. The Council's members estimated their salt needs for the 2016-17 winter. The Council issued a comprehensive bid package, anticipating the need for 115,000 tons of rock salt. MidAmerican won the contract, which stated: There is no obligation to purchase [the estimated] quantity. As required by the contract, Mid-American obtained a performance bond costing $93,016; imported $4,800,000 worth of salt from Morocco; and paid $31,250 per month to store the salt and another $58,962.26 to cover it. Mid-American incurred at least another $220,000 in finance costs and additional transportation costs. Council members purchased less than five percent of the estimated tonnage. Mid-American claims “several” Council members purchased salt from MidAmerican’s competitors, who lowered their prices after MidAmerican won the contract.Mid-American sued the Council and 49 of its members, alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and bad faith under UCC Article 2. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. No valid requirements contract existed here because the contract was illusory. These sophisticated parties were capable of entering into precisely the contract they desired. Neither the Council nor its members ever promised to purchase from Mid-American all the salt they required View "Mid-American Salt LLC v. Morris County Cooperative Pricing Council" on Justia Law

by
In 2005, revelations surfaced that Body Armor—a publicly-traded company—was manufacturing its body armor, which it sold to law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military, using substandard materials. Its stock price plummeted, prompting shareholders to bring numerous actions that were consolidated into a shareholders’ class action and a derivative action on behalf of Body Armor against specified officers and directors. Since then, the matter has traveled, through bankruptcy, trial, and appellate courts throughout three U.S. jurisdictions. In its second review of the case, the Third Circuit affirmed a 2015 Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware order, approving a settlement entered in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of S.S. Body Armor I. The court reversed in part the Bankruptcy Court’s order that granted the objector fees on a contingent basis and remanded for a determination of the appropriate amount of the fee award. The court affirmed the part of that order that denied the objector’s claim to attorneys’ fees and expenses under the Bankruptcy Code and an order awarding fees to counsel in one of the underlying lawsuits. View "In re: SS Body Armor I Inc." on Justia Law

by
Founding USM to acquire FCC licenses, Elkin contributed $750,000 and Norman $250,000. Norman acquired the licenses; his day-to-day involvement ended. In 1998, the FCC announced another auction. USM won several licenses, which Elkin transferred to TEG, another company that he owned; purportedly USM did not have sufficient funds. Elkin did not respond to Norman's inquiries. Some FCC notices listed USM as the winning bidder; others referred to TEG as the licenses' owner. Before 2002, without notifying Norman, Elkin caused USM to enter into a Shareholder Loan Agreement (SLA) to treat any amount Elkin contributed above his capital requirement as a loan. Elkin lent USM more than $600,000. In 2000-2001, USM sold licenses. Norman received federal income tax forms that declared USM had realized a capital gain. In 2000-2002, USM paid Elkin $615,026 from the sales proceeds. Norman received nothing. In 2002. Elkin admitted that licenses had been sold and that he had taken a distribution. Norman's 2004 Delaware "books and records" action was resolved in his favor in 2005. Norman sued, raising various tort and contract claims After two trials and a remand, the district court concluded that the limitations period for each of Norman’s claims was tolled during the Delaware Action and that Norman’s claim based on 2002 distributions was timely. Oer Third Circuit mandate, the court ruled in Normans' favor with respect to the execution of the SLA. For Norman’s other claims, including those based on 2001 distributions, the court held that Norman had at least inquiry notice beyond the limitations period. Elkin then argued that Norman was not entitled to tolling relating to the Delaware Action because he brought that suit in bad faith. The district court refused to consider new evidence. The Third Circuit affirmed, except with respect to Norman’s claim based on 2001 events. View "Norman v. Elkin" on Justia Law

by
The district courts dismissed two cases, concluding that faxes soliciting participation by the recipients in market research surveys in exchange for monetary payments are not advertisements within the meaning of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (b)(1)(C) (TCPA), which prohibits the transmission of unsolicited fax advertisements. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit reversed.. Solicitations to buy products, goods, or services can be advertisements under the TCPA. The solicitations for participation in the surveys in exchange for $200.00 by one sender and $150.00 by the other sender were for services within the TCPA. An offer of payment in exchange for participation in a market survey is a commercial transaction, so a fax highlighting the availability of that transaction is an advertisement under the TCPA. View "Fischbein v. Olson Research Group Inc" on Justia Law

by
Huber stole confidential information from his employer AFS (a manufacturer of hydraulic systems) for an AFS competitor, Livingston, and later for a company he created, INSYSMA, to compete against both AFS and Livingston. AFS eventually sued, alleging trade secret misappropriation claims under the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act. On summary judgment, the district court held as a matter of law that Huber and INSYSMA were liable under the Trade Secrets Act for misappropriating AFS’s trade secrets. Following a bench trial, the court held Livingston and two of its employees jointly and severally liable with Huber and INSYSMA for that misappropriation, and held all defendants except a Livingston employee and INSYSMA liable for breach of fiduciary duty or aiding and abetting that breach, and awarded compensatory damages, exemplary damages, and punitive damages from various defendants.The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that AFS does not “own” the purported trade secrets at issue; that the claimed trade secrets are not actually protectable under the Trade Secrets Act, that the Livingston Parties were prejudiced by their counsel’s conduct at and following the trial, and that the damages awards were unwarranted. The Act only requires that a plaintiff lawfully possess the trade secrets it wishes to vindicate. View "Advanced Fluid Systems Inc v. Huber" on Justia Law

by
The Coalition, an association of franchised New Jersey new car dealerships, filed suit under the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act on behalf of 16 Mazda dealer-members. Mazda had an incentive program for its franchised dealers (MBEP), which provides incentives, per-vehicle discounts or rebates on the dealers’ purchases of vehicles from Mazda, to dealers who make certain investments in their physical facilities that highlight their sale of Mazda vehicles or dedicate their dealerships exclusively to the sale of Mazda vehicles. The incentives come in different tiers, with the highest tier available to dealers who have exclusive Mazda facilities and a dedicated, exclusive Mazda general manager. Mazda dealers also earn incentives if they meet customer experience metrics. Mazda dealers who sell other brands of vehicles as well as Mazdas, do not receive incentives for brand commitment. Only three of the 16 Mazda dealers in the Coalition qualified for the highest tier; eight others qualified for some tier of incentives. The complaint alleged that the MBEP creates unfair competitive advantages for dealers who qualify for incentives under the MBEP at the expense of those dealers who do not, and even among incentivized dealers through different tiers.The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case, rejecting as too narrow the district court’s rationale--that the Coalition lacked standing because only five of the 16 Mazda dealers would benefit from the lawsuit, so the Coalition cannot possibly be protecting the interests of its members. View "New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, Inc. v. Mazda Motor of America Inc" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, drivers who use Uber’s mobile phone application to provide limousine services (UberBLACK) in Philadelphia, claimed violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, and Pennsylvania laws. Plaintiffs each own and operate independent transportation companies (ITCs) as required to drive for UberBLACK. Each ITC’s agreement with Uber includes a Software License and outlines the relationships between ITCs, Uber riders, Uber, and Uber drivers. It describes driver requirements, vehicle requirements, financial terms, and contains an arbitration clause. A mandatory agreement between the ITC and the for-hire driver allows a driver to receive services through Uber’s app and outlines driver requirements, insurance requirements, dispute resolution. Some UberBLACK providers operate under Uber’s Philadelphia certificate of convenience; others hold their own certificates; approximately 75% of UberBLACK drivers use Uber’s automobile insurance. Plaintiffs claim that they are employees and allege that time spent online on the Uber App qualifies as FLSA compensable time. Uber argued that Plaintiffs are not restricted from working for other companies, pay their own expenses, can engage workers for their own ITCs, can use UberBLACK as little or as much as they want, and have no restrictions on personal activities while online.The Third Circuit vacated summary judgment. A reasonable fact-finder could rule in favor of Plaintiffs. Disputed facts include whether Plaintiffs are operating within Uber’s system and under Uber’s rules; whether Plaintiffs or their corporations contracted directly with Uber; and whether Uber exercises control over drivers. View "Razak v. Uber Technologies Inc" on Justia Law