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

Articles Posted in Commercial Law

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Sapa manufactures aluminum extruded profiles, pre-treats the metal and coats it with primer and topcoat. For decades, Sapa supplied “organically coated extruded aluminum profiles” to Marvin, which incorporated these extrusions with other materials to manufacture aluminum-clad windows and doors. This process was permanent, so if an extrusion was defective, it could not be swapped out; the whole window or door had to be replaced. In 2000-2010, Marvin bought about 28 million Sapa extrusions and incorporated them in about 8.5 million windows and doors. Marvin sometimes received complaints that the aluminum parts of its windows and doors would oxidize or corrode. The companies initially worked together to resolve the issues. In the mid-2000s, there was an increase in complaints, mostly from people who lived close to the ocean. In 2010, Marvin sued Sapa, alleging that Sapa had sold it extrusions that failed to meet Marvin’s specifications. In 2013, the companies settled their dispute for a large sum. Throughout the relevant period, Sapa maintained 28 commercial general liability insurance policies through eight carriers. Zurich accepted the defense under a reservation of rights, but the Insurers disclaimed coverage. Sapa sued them, asserting breach of contract. The district court held that Marvin’s claims were not an “occurrence” that triggered coverage. The Third Circuit vacated in part, citing Pennsylvania insurance law: whether a manufacturer may recover from its liability insurers the cost of settling a lawsuit alleging that the manufacturer’s product was defective turns on the language of the specific policies. Nineteen policies, containing an Accident Definition of “occurrence,” do not cover Marvin’s allegations, which are solely for faulty workmanship. Seven policies contain an Expected/Intended Definition that triggers a subjective-intent standard that must be considered on remand. Two policies with an Injurious Exposure Definition also include the Insured’s Intent Clause and require further consideration. View "Sapa Extrusions, Inc. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Spartan, which operated on St. Croix, sought to displace Heavy Materials as the sole provider of ready-mix concrete on St. Thomas. Upon entering the St. Thomas market, Spartan started a price war that caused financial losses to Spartan while Heavy Materials retained its dominant position. After three years of fierce competition, the companies reached a truce: Spartan agreed to sell on St. Croix while Heavy Materials would keep selling on St. Thomas. Spartan then sued Argos, a bulk cement vendor, alleging violations of the Robinson-Patman Act, 15 U.S.C. 13(a), by giving Heavy Materials a 10 percent volume discount during the price war. The district court entered judgment for Argos and denied Spartan leave to amend its complaint to include two tort claims, finding undue delay and prejudice. The Third Circuit affirmed. Although Argos gave Heavy Materials alone a 10 percent volume discount on concrete, Spartan presented no evidence linking this discount to its inability to compete in the St. Thomas market. Spartan did compete with Heavy Materials for three years and not only lowered its retail prices, but also began a price war and achieved a nearly 30 percent share of the St. Thomas retail ready-mix concrete market. View "Spartan Concrete Products LLC v. Argos USVI Corp." on Justia Law

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Oberdorf walked her dog with a retractable leash. Unexpectedly, the dog lunged. The D-ring on the collar broke and the leash recoiled and hit Oberdorf’s face and eyeglasses, leaving Oberdorf permanently blind in her left eye. Oberdorf bought the collar on Amazon.com. She sued Amazon.com, including claims for strict products liability and negligence. The district court found that, under Pennsylvania law, Amazon was not liable for Oberdorf’s injuries. A third-party vendor, not Amazon itself, had listed the collar on Amazon’s online marketplace and shipped the collar directly to Oberdorf. The court found that Amazon was not a “seller” under Pennsylvania law and that Oberdorf’s claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because she sought to hold Amazon liable for its role as the online publisher of third-party content. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Amazon is a “seller” under section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts and thus subject to the Pennsylvania strict products liability law. Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process. Oberdorf’s claims against Amazon are not barred by section 230 of the CDA except as they rely upon a “failure to warn” theory of liability. The court affirmed the dismissal under the CDA of the failure to warn claims. View "Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, licensed taxi and limousine operators, sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging an agreement between Newark and Uber as violating their rights under the Takings, Due Process, and Equal Protection Clauses. In order to operate in Newark without taxi medallions or commercial driver’s licenses, setting its own rates, Uber agreed to pay the city $1 million per year for 10 years; to provide $1.5 million in liability insurance for each of its drivers; to have a third-party provider conduct background checks on its drivers. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The agreement places the plaintiffs in an “undoubtedly difficult position” but the situation cannot be remedied through constitutional claims. Even if plaintiffs have a legally cognizable property interest in the medallions themselves, they remain in possession of and able to use their taxi medallions to conduct business. The decrease in the market value of the medallions is not sufficient to constitute a cognizable property interest necessary to state a claim under the Takings Clause. The city controls the number of medallions in circulation and maintains the ability to flood the market with medallions. With respect to equal protection, it is rational for the city to determine that customers require greater protections before accepting a ride from a taxi on the street than before accepting a ride where they are given the relevant information in advance. View "Newark Cab Association v. City of Newark" on Justia Law

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SemGroup purchased oil from producers and resold it to downstream purchasers. It also traded financial options contracts for the right to buy or sell oil at a fixed price on a future date. At the end of the fiscal year preceding bankruptcy, SemGroup’s revenues were $13.2 billion. SemGroup’s operating companies purchased oil from thousands of wells in several states and from thousands of oil producers, including from Appellants, producers in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The producers took no actions to protect themselves in case 11 of SemGroup’s insolvency. The downstream purchasers did; in the case of default, they could set off the amount they owed SemGroup for oil by the amount SemGroup would owe them for the value of the outstanding futures trades. When SemGroup filed for bankruptcy, the downstream purchasers were paid in full while the oil producers were paid only in part. The producers argued that local laws gave them automatically perfected security interests or trust rights in the oil that ended up in the hands of the downstream purchasers. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the downstream purchasers; parties who took precautions against insolvency do not act as insurers to those who took none. View "In re: SemCrude LP" on Justia Law

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The creditors shipped goods via common carrier from China to World Imports in the U.S. “free on board” at the port of origin. One shipment left Shanghai on May 26, 2013; World took physical possession of the goods in the U.S. on June 21. Other goods were shipped from Xiamen on May 17, May 31, and June 7, 2013, and were accepted in the U.S. within 20 days of the day on which World filed its Chapter 11 petition. The creditors filed Allowance and Payment of Administrative Expense Claims, 11 U.S.C. 503(b)(9), allowable if: the vendor sold ‘goods’ to the debtor; the goods were "received" by the debtor within 20 days before the bankruptcy filing; and the goods were sold in the ordinary course of business. Section 503(b)(9) does not define "received." The Bankruptcy Court rejected an argument that the UCC should govern and looked to the Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). The CISG does not define “received,” so the court looked to international commercial terms (Incoterms) incorporated into the CISG. Although no Incoterm defines “received,” the incoterm governing FOB contracts indicates that the risk transfers to the buyer when the seller delivers the goods to the common carrier. The Bankruptcy Court and the district court found that the goods were “constructively received” when shipped and denied the creditors’ motions. The Third Circuit reversed; the word “received” in 11 U.S.C. 503(b)(9) requires physical possession. View "In re: World Imports Ltd" on Justia Law

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Between 2002-2006, Lucht purchased treated lumber for a deck on his vacation home in the Virgin Islands. The lumber allegedly decayed prematurely and he began replacing boards in 2010; he claims he did not discover the severity of the problem until the fall of 2011. Lucht sued the retailer, wholesaler, and treatment company of the lumber in February 2013, alleging a Uniform Commercial Code contract claim; a common law contract claim; a breach of warranty claim; a negligence claim; a strict liability claim; and a deceptive trade practices claim under the Virgin Islands Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The district court rejected the claims as time-barred. The Third Circuit affirmed, citing the “‘gist of the action doctrine,” which bars plaintiffs from bringing a tort claim that merely replicates a claim for breach of an underlying contract. View "MRL Dev. I, LLC v. Whitecap Inv. Corp" on Justia Law

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WI buys furniture wholesale. OEC provided WI with non-vessel-operating common carrier transportation services. WI signed an Application for Credit that granted a security interest in WI property in OEC’s possession, custody or control or en route. As required by federal law, OEC also publishes a tariff with the Federal Maritime Commission, which provides for a Carrier’s lien. WI filed voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions. OEC sought relief from the automatic stay, arguing that it was a secured creditor with a possessory maritime lien. OEC documented debts of $458,251 for freight and related charges due on containers in OEC’s possession and $994,705 for freight and related charges on goods for which OEC had previously provided services. The estimated value of WIs’ goods in OEC’s possession was $1,926,363. WI filed an adversary proceeding, seeking release of the goods. The bankruptcy court ruled in favor of WI, citing 11 U.S.C. 542. The district court affirmed, holding that OEC did not possess a valid maritime lien on Pre-petition Goods. The Third Circuit reversed, noting the strong presumption that OEC did not waive its maritime liens on the Prepetition Goods, the clear documentation that the parties intended such liens to survive delivery, the familiar principle that a maritime lien may attach to property substituted for the original object of the lien, and the parties’ general freedom to modify or extend existing liens by contract. View "In re: World Imports LTD" on Justia Law

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An Automated Maritime Telecommunications System (AMTS) is a U.S. communication service between land and vessels in navigable waterways, existing on specific broadcast frequencies. Advances in technology have greatly expanded the potential uses of AMTSs. Under the original site-based system, small geographic regions were defined by location and the waterway served and the FCC provided licenses at no cost to the first applicant. In 2000, the FCC stopped issuing site-based licenses and began issuing licenses by competitive bidding; it divided the U.S. into 10 regions and, at public auctions, sold “geographic” licenses for two blocks of AMTS frequencies in each region. Although geographic licensees may generally place stations anywhere within their region, they may not interfere with the functioning of existing site-based stations, so the location of a site-based station creates a gap in a geographic licensee’s coverage area. Plaintiffs obtained geographic licenses in areas overlaying pre-existing site-based licenses. Site-based operators refused to provide plaintiffs with the operating contours for their site-based locations within plaintiffs’ geographic locations. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging violation of the Federal Communications Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the FCA claims and a determination that no antitrust conspiracy existed. Plaintiffs did not identify particular actions that were determined by the FCC to be unreasonable or unjust and, therefore, do not possess a private right of action. View "Havens v. Mobex Network Servs., LLC" on Justia Law

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SEB distributes household products under several brand names, including electric steam irons sold under the Rowenta brand name. Euro-Pro distributes household appliances under the Shark brand name. The Shark packaging states: “MORE POWERFUL STEAM vs. Rowenta®†† at half the price.” The “††”refers to a fine-print footnote on the package’s bottom, stating that the claim is “††[b]ased on independent comparative steam burst testing to Rowenta DW5080 (grams/shot).” The packaging also asserts “#1 MOST POWERFUL STEAM*” with a fine-print reference on the bottom stating it “*[o]ffers more grams per minute (maximum steam setting while bursting before water spots appear) when compared to leading competition in the same price range, at time of printing.” SEB directed its internal laboratory to conduct tests, which showed that the Rowenta performed the same as the Shark. SEB commissioned an independent laboratory to conduct tests, which showed that the Rowenta outperformed the Shark. SEB claimed false advertising under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and unfair competition under Pennsylvania common law. The Third Circuit affirmed entry of an injunction, agreeing that the packaging’s definition of a claim term applies to the claim’s explicit message and that the court properly disregarded consumer survey evidence offering alternative meanings. View "Groupe SEB USA Inc v. Euro Pro Operating, LLC" on Justia Law