Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries
Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC v. National Grid USA Service Co., Inc.
In this dispute, two renewable-energy generating companies, Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC and 201 Oak Pembroke Solar LLC, appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after their class-action lawsuit was dismissed by the District Court for the District of Massachusetts due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The plaintiffs had a longstanding disagreement with defendants, utility companies National Grid USA Service Company, Inc. and Massachusetts Electric Company, over certain tax-related fees charged to them. The plaintiffs sought redress in federal court after unsuccessful petitions to state authorities.The plaintiffs argued that the district court had jurisdiction due to the case's connection to federal tax law, however, the appellate court disagreed, stating that the plaintiffs' complaint did not bring any claim that arose under federal law. The plaintiffs had brought forth four claims against National Grid, including a request for declaratory relief, a state-law claim for a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, a state-law claim for restitution and unjust enrichment, and a state-law claim for violating a statutory requirement that public utilities assess only just and reasonable charges.The appellate court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case, finding that the plaintiffs could not establish federal-question jurisdiction simply by asserting a state-law claim to which there was a federal defense. The court noted that the state-law claims did not necessarily raise a federal issue, and to the extent that one did, the issue was not substantial. As such, the court concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the claims. View "Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC v. National Grid USA Service Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Smith v. Prudential Insurance Company of America
Brian Smith, a Rhode Island resident, sued Prudential Insurance Company of America for breach of fiduciary duty after the company terminated his long-term disability benefits under an insurance policy. The policy stated a three-year limitations period to file a lawsuit, which began on the date Smith was required to submit proof of his disability, not on the date Prudential allegedly breached the policy by stopping payment. Consequently, by the time Smith filed his lawsuit, the limitations period had expired. Smith appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island granted summary judgment in favor of Prudential on the grounds that Smith's lawsuit was filed too late.Smith argued that enforcing the limitations scheme would violate Rhode Island public policy. While the Court of Appeals found compelling reasons to believe that the limitations scheme might indeed contravene Rhode Island public policy, they also recognized that reversing and remanding on that ground would potentially expand Rhode Island law. Consequently, the Court of Appeals decided to certify the public policy question to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The certified question is whether, in light of specific state laws and Rhode Island public policy, Rhode Island would enforce the limitations scheme in this case to bar Smith's lawsuit against Prudential. View "Smith v. Prudential Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law
ST Engineering Marine, Ltd. v. Thompson, MacColl & Bass, LLC, P.A.
In this case, a law firm, Thompson, MacColl & Bass, LLC, P.A. (TM&B), was sued by its former client, ST Engineering Marine, Ltd. (STEM), for professional negligence. STEM owned a vessel that was arrested due to several entities, including Sprague Operating Resources, LLC (Sprague), asserting maritime liens for unpaid services. STEM had sought advice from TM&B to analyze these lien claims. TM&B advised STEM that Sprague's lien was valid and should be paid. Acting on this advice, STEM paid Sprague and subsequently sued TM&B, alleging that TM&B's advice was negligent as it failed to consider the unsettled state of relevant maritime lien law.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States District Court for the District of Maine, which had found in favor of STEM. The Court of Appeals held that TM&B breached its duty of care to STEM by failing to conduct adequate legal research and by not appropriately counseling STEM about the uncertainty of Sprague's lien claim. The court also found that TM&B's negligence was the actual and proximate cause of STEM's loss, concluding that STEM would have prevailed in contesting Sprague's lien claim but for TM&B's erroneous advice. The court ordered TM&B to pay STEM $261,839.04 in damages. View "ST Engineering Marine, Ltd. v. Thompson, MacColl & Bass, LLC, P.A." on Justia Law
Baldwin v. Express Oil Change, LLC
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia regarding a dispute over the enforceability of a restrictive covenant in Georgia. The plaintiff, Charles Baldwin, had worked for various franchisees of Express Oil Change, LLC, and was asked to sign a restrictive covenant as a condition of receiving a payment after the franchisees' stores were sold to Express. The covenant restricted Baldwin from engaging in certain competitive business activities for a specified duration and within a specified geographic area. After leaving Express, Baldwin sued, seeking a declaration that the covenant was unenforceable under the Georgia Restrictive Covenants Act (GRCA). The district court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of the covenant, finding it unreasonable in terms of its geographic scope and duration. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit found that the district court correctly concluded that the covenant's geographic scope was unreasonable under the GRCA, but that it applied the wrong presumption in concluding that the covenant's duration was unreasonable. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, dismissed the appeal in part, and remanded the case to the district court for reconsideration of its preliminary injunction under the proper presumptions. View "Baldwin v. Express Oil Change, LLC" on Justia Law
In re Estate of Kemmer
In the Supreme Court of the State of Montana, a dispute arose over the distribution of a deceased person's estate, particularly a 1978 Ford pickup truck. The decedent was Ronald Glen Kemmer, who died intestate and was survived by his four adult children: Travis Kemmer, Becky Mastley, Collette Cole, and Ronda Gilge, referred to as the Heirs. Travis Kemmer served as the Personal Representative (PR) of the Estate. The Heirs could not agree on the disposition of the truck, and a conflict arose over whether a binding agreement had been reached and whether Travis Kemmer, as PR, had breached his fiduciary duties by not drafting a written agreement on the truck's distribution.The Court found that the PR was not obligated to draft a formal written agreement. The plain language of Montana's Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) requires a written contract executed by all successors to alter the amounts to which they are entitled under the laws of intestacy, and this requirement was not fulfilled in this case. The Court also held that the PR had no duty to piece together emails and texts to determine whether there was a meeting of the minds among successors or to take responsibility for putting any such agreement in writing.As such, the Court reversed the District Court's order that had concluded that the PR had a duty to draft a written agreement and remanded to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "In re Estate of Kemmer" on Justia Law
Barber v. Bradford Aquatic
In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Montana, the plaintiff, Kevin Barber, appealed against his former employer, Bradford Aquatic Group, LLC, alleging wrongful termination. Bradford Aquatic Group, a North Carolina-based company, had employed Barber as a Regional Business Development Manager for its Rocky Mountain region, which includes Montana. The employment contract between Barber and the company included a choice-of-law and forum selection clause, specifying that any disputes arising from the agreement would be governed by North Carolina law and adjudicated in North Carolina courts.Barber, a resident of Montana, argued that Montana law should apply to his claims of wrongful discharge, breach of contract, and bad faith, and that the suit should be heard in Montana. The district court dismissed Barber's claims due to improper venue, based on the choice-of-law and forum selection clauses in the employment agreement.Upon review, the Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the choice-of-law provision in the employment agreement was valid and that North Carolina law should apply to Barber's claims. The court also upheld the validity of the forum selection clause, concluding that it is enforceable under North Carolina law. Therefore, the court determined that the dispute should be adjudicated in North Carolina, not Montana. View "Barber v. Bradford Aquatic" on Justia Law
Betancourt v. Indian Hills Plaza LLC
In this case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the plaintiff, Rudolph Betancourt, a disabled individual, filed a lawsuit against Indian Hills Plaza LLC, the owner of a shopping plaza, citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiff experienced difficulties accessing the shopping plaza due to his disability. The parties agreed that the defendant had violated the ADA in 17 aspects, and Indian Hills Plaza LLC undertook remediation measures. The district court awarded Betancourt $12,000 in attorney's fees and costs. However, Betancourt appealed this decision, believing he was entitled to more.The main issue on appeal was the challenge to the district court's award of attorney’s fees and costs. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision, finding no abuse of discretion. The court explained that the district court properly calculated the lodestar amount (reasonable hourly rate multiplied by the reasonable number of hours worked), which serves as a baseline for attorney's fees. It reduced the hourly rate considering the quality of the performance of Betancourt’s attorney and reduced the number of hours billed by 20% due to excessive billing. The court further reduced the attorney’s fees award based on deficiencies in the actions by Betancourt’s counsel during the litigation. The district court also deemed the requested expert costs as unreasonable and reduced them.Therefore, the holding of the case is that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding $12,000 in attorney’s fees and costs to the plaintiff, and that the court properly calculated the lodestar amount and adjusted it based on relevant considerations. The court also held that the plaintiff's attorney's premature fee motions, not the defendant's opposition to those motions, caused the excessive fees. View "Betancourt v. Indian Hills Plaza LLC" on Justia Law
Hernandez v. MicroBilt Corp
In this case, the plaintiff, Maria Del Rosario Hernandez, filed a lawsuit against MicroBilt Corporation alleging the company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act after the lender denied her loan application based on inaccurate information provided by a MicroBilt product. MicroBilt moved to compel arbitration based on the terms and conditions that Hernandez agreed to while applying for the loan, which included an arbitration provision. However, Hernandez had already submitted her claims to the American Arbitration Association (AAA) for arbitration.The AAA notified MicroBilt that its agreement with Hernandez was a consumer agreement, which meant the AAA's Consumer Arbitration Rules applied. Applying these rules, the AAA notified MicroBilt that its arbitration provision included a material or substantial deviation from the Consumer Rules and/or Protocol. Specifically, the provision’s limitation on damages conflicted with the Consumer Due Process Protocol, which requires that an arbitrator should be empowered to grant whatever relief would be available in court under law or in equity. After MicroBilt did not waive the damages limitation, the AAA declined to administer the arbitration under Rule 1(d).MicroBilt asked Hernandez to submit her claims to a different arbitrator, but she refused, requesting a hearing before the District Court. She argued that she must now pursue her claims in court because the AAA dismissed the case under Rule 1(d). The District Court reinstated Hernandez’s complaint and granted MicroBilt leave to move to compel arbitration under 9 U.S.C. § 4. However, the District Court denied MicroBilt’s motion to compel, leading to this appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that Hernandez had fully complied with MicroBilt’s arbitration provision, which allowed her to pursue her claims in court. The court held that it lacked the authority to compel arbitration. The court rejected MicroBilt's arguments that the AAA administrator improperly resolved an arbitrability issue that should have been resolved by an arbitrator, that the provision’s Exclusive Resolution clause conflicted with Hernandez’s return to court, and that the AAA’s application of the Consumer Due Process Protocol was unreasonable. The court concluded that it lacked the authority to review the AAA’s decision or to sever the damages limitation from the arbitration provision. View "Hernandez v. MicroBilt Corp" on Justia Law
KIM V. TINDER, INC.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's approval of a class action settlement between Tinder and Lisa Kim, a user of the dating app, ruling that Kim was not an adequate class representative. This class action lawsuit against Tinder was over its former age-based pricing model. Kim had agreed to arbitration, unlike over 7,000 potential members of the class, creating a fundamental conflict of interest that violated Rule 23(a)(4). The court found that Kim had a strong interest in settling her claim as she had no chance of going to trial, unlike the other members. The court also noted that Kim failed to vigorously litigate the case on behalf of the class, with her approach to opposing Tinder’s motion to compel arbitration not suggesting vigor. The court remanded the case for consideration of Kim's individual action against Tinder. View "KIM V. TINDER, INC." on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Termination of Parental Rights To: JJD v. State of Wyoming, Ex Rel. Department of Family Services
In the child protection case before the Supreme Court of Wyoming, the appellant, Dominique Desiree Sciacca (Mother), contested the termination of her parental rights to her minor child, JDD. The Department of Family Services had filed a petition for termination based on Mother's neglect of the child and her failure to comply with a reunification plan. The District Court of Goshen County granted the Department's petition. On appeal, Mother did not dispute the grounds for termination but argued that her due process rights were violated because she was not physically present in court for the termination hearing, although she was allowed to participate by phone. She also contended that the court violated procedural rules by allowing her to testify by phone from the same location as the child's father, without adequate safeguards to protect her from his influence. The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision, finding no violation of due process or procedural rules. The court ruled that Mother was given a meaningful opportunity to be heard and that the lower court had implemented sufficient safeguards during her phone testimony. View "In the Matter of the Termination of Parental Rights To: JJD v. State of Wyoming, Ex Rel. Department of Family Services" on Justia Law