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

Articles Posted in Contracts

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National, hoping to contract with the federal government to provide student loan collection services, reached an Agreement with Net Gain, which procured networking relationships for its clients. In return for introductions, National agreed to pay a finder’s fee for any related contract that National “consummated” during the Agreement’s term. A few years later, Net Gain assigned the Agreement to Fed Cetera. During the effective period of the Agreement, National signed a contract with the government. It did not begin performance on that contract until after the Agreement’s applicable period ended. National refused to pay the finder’s fee, arguing that it had not “consummated” the federal contract. The district court ruled in favor of National. The Third Circuit reversed. The Agreement did not require some degree of performance while the Agreement was in force in order for a contract to be “consummated.” A Fee Transaction is consummated when it is formed, not when performance has begun. The economics of the contract are plausible only if Fed Cetera’s compensation turns on the satisfactory completion of its function—not events, like performance by National, that post-date the only service Fed Cetera performs and are outside of its control. View "Fed Cetera LLC v. National Credit Services Inc" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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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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Penn boarded Fantasy’s horses. After some of its horses became sick or injured and even died, Fantasy refused to pay boarding invoices totaling $65,707. Fantasy told Penn’s veterinarian, Edelson, that it was considering suing him; they entered into an agreement releasing “any and all persons, firms, or corporations liable or who might be liable . . . [from liability] arising out of or in any way relating to any injuries and damages of any and every kind . . . [in] the care and/or treatment of any [Fantasy] horses stabled at Penn.” Penn sued for breach of contract and defamation, based on emails sent to individuals in the industry blaming Penn for the deaths of Fantasy’s horses, calling the staff “inexperienced,” and accusing Penn of trying to conceal the problems. Fantasy counterclaimed, alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. The district court rejected the negligence counterclaims, based on the Edelson release. A jury awarded Penn $110,000 for breach of contract, $1 in nominal damages for defamation, and $89,999 in punitive damages. The court reduced the punitive damages to $5,500. The Third Circuit affirmed, except as to punitive damages. If the court finds, on remand, that the $89,999 award is unconstitutionally excessive, it should explain why it is not within the range of reasonable punitive damages for this claim and why a lower award reflects the reprehensibility of the conduct. View "Jester v. Hutt" on Justia Law

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ADP sells technology products and services and imposes restrictive covenants on its sales employees. At hiring, all employees sign a Sales Representative Agreement (SRA) and a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that prohibit ADP employees from soliciting any ADP “clients, bona fide prospective clients or marketing partners of businesses of [ADP] with which the Employee was involved or exposed” for one year after termination. ADP employees who meet their sales targets are eligible to participate in a stock-option award program, only if they agree to an additional Restrictive Covenant Agreement (RCA), which prohibits employees, for one year following their termination, from soliciting any ADP clients to whom ADP “provides,” “has provided” or “reasonably expects” to provide business within the two-year period following the termination; for one year following their termination, RCA employees will not “participate in any manner with a Competing Business anywhere in the Territory where doing so will require [them] to [either] provide the same or substantially similar services to a Competing Business as those which [they] provided to ADP while employed,” or “use or disclose ADP’s Confidential Information or trade secrets.” Former ADP employees, shortly after leaving ADP, began working for ADP's direct competitor. Each had signed the SRA and NDA and each accepted stock awards under the RCA. ADP sought enforcement of the SRA, NDA, and RCA. The Third Circuit held that the covenants are not unenforceable in their entirety because they serve a legitimate business interest, but they may place an undue hardship on employees because they are overbroad. The court remanded for consideration of whether and to what extent it is necessary to curtail their scope, the approach prescribed by the New Jersey Supreme Court. View "ADP LLC v. Rafferty" on Justia Law

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Multidistrict litigation was formed to handle claims filed by former professional football players against the NFL based on concussion-related injuries. The district court (Judge Brody) approved a settlement agreement, effective January 2017. The Third Circuit affirmed; the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Under the agreement, approximately 200,000 class members surrendered their claims in exchange for proceeds from an uncapped settlement fund. Class members had to submit medical records reflecting a qualifying diagnosis. The Claims Administrator determines whether the applicant qualifies for an award. In March 2017, the claims submission process opened for class members who had been diagnosed with a qualifying illness before January 7, 2017. Other class members had to receive a diagnosis from a practitioner approved through the settlement Baseline Assessment Program (BAP). Class members could register for BAP appointments beginning in June 2017. While waiting to receive their awards, hundreds of class members entered into cash advance agreements with litigation funding companies, purporting to “assign” their rights to settlement proceeds in exchange for immediate cash. Class members did not assign their legal claims against the NFL. Judge Brody retained jurisdiction over the administration of the settlement agreement, which included an anti-assignment provision. Class counsel advised Judge Brody that he was concerned about predatory lending. Judge Brody ordered class members to inform the Claims Administrator of all assignment agreements, and purported to void all such agreements, directing a procedure under which funding companies could accept rescission and return of the principal amount they had advanced. The Third Circuit vacated. Despite having the authority to void prohibited assignments, the court went too far in voiding the cash advance agreements and voiding contractual provisions that went only to a lender’s right to receive funds after the player acquired them. View "In Re: National Football League Players Concussion Injury Litigation." on Justia Law

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Sköld coined the name “Restoraderm” for a proprietary drug-delivery formulation that he developed for potential use in skin-care products. He entered into a 2001 letter of intent with CollaGenex, a skin-care company, stating that “[a]ll trademarks associated with the drug delivery system … shall be applied for and registered in the name of CollaGenex and be the exclusive property of CollaGenex.” Their 2002 contract reiterated those provisions and stated that termination of the agreement would not affect any vested rights. With Sköld’s cooperation, CollaGenex applied to register the Restoraderm mark. Under a 2004 Agreement, Sköld transferred Restoraderm patent rights and goodwill to CollaGenex, without mentioning trademark rights. After Galderma bought CollaGenex it used Restoraderm as a brand name on products employing other technologies. In 2009, Galderma terminated the 2004 Agreement, asserting that it owned the trade name and that Sköld should not use the name. Sköld markets products based on the original Restoraderm technology that do not bear the Restoraderm mark. Galderma’s Restoraderm product line has enjoyed international success. Sköld sued, alleging trademark infringement, false advertising, unfair competition, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. Only Sköld’s unjust enrichment claim was successful. The Third Circuit reversed in part, absolving Galderma of liability. The 2004 agreement, rather than voiding CollaGenex’s ownership of the mark by implication, confirmed that CollaGenex owned the Restoraderm mark. Galderma succeeded to those vested rights. View "Skold v. Galderma Laboratories L.P." on Justia Law

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The Photographers entered into representation agreements with Corbis, a photography agency, providing Corbis authority to sub-license their works to third parties on a non-exclusive, fixed-duration basis. The agreements include forum selection clauses and give Corbis sole authority to make and settle claims for unauthorized use of images. If Corbis declines to bring such a claim within 60 days, the Photographers may bring actions. Corbis sub-licensed their photographs to McGraw-Hill. The invoices included the name of the photographer responsible for the work and incorporated Corbis’ standard “Terms and Conditions,” which included mandatory, exclusive forum selection clauses. The Photographers each brought a copyright action against McGraw-Hill in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. McGraw-Hill moved to transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a), arguing that the disputes implicate the Corbis–McGraw-Hill agreements, under which the proper venue was the Southern District of New York. One judge denied the motion, reasoning that the claims are based purely on copyright law, so the action is not a “dispute regarding th[e] Agreement[s],” and not subject to the forum selection clauses. Another judge reasoned that the copyright claims depend upon the interpretation of the Corbis–McGraw-Hill agreements so that the photographer was subject to the forum selection clause as an intended third-party beneficiary. In consolidated actions, the Third Circuit concluded that the photographers are not bound because they are not intended beneficiaries of the agreements, nor are they closely related parties. Because the erring district court’s mistakes were not clear or indisputable, the court declined to grant mandamus relief. View "In re: McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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Judge had been principal of Oaklyn Elementary School for about three years when she was stopped by a Pennsylvania State Trooper for failing to signal. After acknowledging she had been drinking, Judge asked the trooper to release her because she was concerned about her job. The trooper took Judge to the barracks, where she was given a test, which showed that Judge’s blood alcohol content was .332, more than four times the legal limit. Three weeks later, Judge encountered Superintendent Kelley, who had been advised by school board members about the traffic stop. Kelley wrote: If you do choose to resign then I will offer a neutral reference in the future . . . . [I]n the alternative, if you decide not to resign and DUI charges are filed against you then I will be forced to issue a written statement of charges for dismissal. Judge did not contact a lawyer, although she had retained counsel after her arrest. The next day, Judge presented a letter of resignation, while stating she “was not even charged with DUI yet.” Kelley then handed Judge court documents indicating that she had been charged. Judge sued, asserting deprivations of procedural and substantive due process, violation of equal protection, and breach of contract, based on "constructive discharge." The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of all her claims: Judge was presented with a reasonable alternative to immediate resignation and resigned voluntarily. View "Judge v. Shikellamy School District" on Justia Law

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The Church’s Deacons recommended Lee as pastor under a 20-year agreement, subject to for-cause early termination. If the Church removed Lee without cause, it would be required to pay Lee salary and benefits for the unexpired term. The agreement specified that Lee could be terminated for cause if he “commits any serious moral or criminal offense” or if he became incapacitated; it allowed either party to terminate upon “material breach.” During a 2013 congregation meeting, Lee stated that “just cause” would occur if the Church was "not growing ... stagnant, ... not a better place,” and that “if [he did not] perform [his] duties well, [he would be] out.” Based on these statements, the congregation approved the agreement. In December 2014, Church leaders recommended voiding the employment contract, reporting that from 2013-14, there was a 39% decline in offerings, a 32% drop in Sunday worship attendance, a 61% decrease in registered members, a doubling of expenditures, and a decline in the quality of community outreach. Lee had scheduled but cancelled several meetings to discuss these issues. The congregation voted to terminate Lee’s employment. Lee sued, alleging breach of contract due to termination without cause, seeking $2,643,996.40 in damages. The Third Circuit affirmed rejection of the suit on summary judgment. Adjudication of Lee’s claim would impermissibly entangle the court in religious doctrine in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. View "Lee v. Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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Vanguard offers retail securities brokerage accounts. Its website stated that Vanguard offered a price of “$2 commissions for stock . . . trades” for customers who maintained a balance in Vanguard accounts of $500,000-$1,000,000. The Taksirs, whose holdings met that threshold, used Vanguard to purchase Nokia stock. Vanguard charged them a $7 commission for each of their respective purchases, stating that the Taksirs’ accounts “are not eligible for discounts for trading stocks and other brokerage securities because of IRS nondiscrimination rules” and that “[u]nfortunately, this information is not listed on the Vanguard Brokerage Commission and Fee Schedule.” Weeks later, Orit Taksir acquired additional Nokia stock in the same Vanguard account and was charged a $2 commission. The Taksirs filed a putative class action for fraud or deception under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and breach of contract. The district court dismissed the UTPCPL claim but denied Vanguard’s motion to dismiss the contract claim. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. 78bb, does not bars investors’ claims that their broker overcharged them for the execution of securities transactions. The issue is whether the overcharges constitute “misrepresentation . . . in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security.” The overcharges do not have a “connection that matters” to the securities transactions. View "Taksir v. Vanguard Group" on Justia Law