Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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The case involves National Trust Insurance Company ("National Trust") and Whaley Construction Company, Inc. ("Whaley"). Whaley was a general contractor on a project at a Lockheed Martin facility. Smith's Inc. of Dothan ("Smith's of Dothan") was a subcontractor hired to install an HVAC system on the project, and Phoenix II Contracting, LLC ("Phoenix II"), was a subcontractor hired to install the roofing. Smith's of Dothan's subcontract with Whaley provided that Smith's of Dothan would name Whaley and Lockheed Martin as additional insureds on its liability policies. National Trust issued Smith's of Dothan a commercial-package policy and a commercial-liability umbrella policy ("the subject policies") through Harmon-DennisBradshaw, Inc. ("HDB"). Whaley and Lockheed Martin were additional insureds under the subject policies. Timothy L. Bozeman was working as a roof laborer on the Lockheed Martin project when he fell through an opening in the roof and was seriously injured. Bozeman sued Phoenix II and various fictitiously named defendants in the circuit court ("the state-court action").National Trust commenced a declaratory-judgment action in the Northern Division of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ("the federal-court action"). The complaint in the federal-court action named Smith's of Dothan, Whaley, Lockheed Martin, and the estate as respondents and included the following factual allegations: "25. A dispute has arisen as to whether Respondents Smith's [of Dothan], Whaley, and Lockheed [Martin] are entitled to a defense and indemnification as to the claims asserted in the Underlying Lawsuit. National Trust asserts that, based on the terms, conditions, and exclusions contained in the [subject] policies, Respondents Smith's [of Dothan], Whaley, and Lockheed [Martin] are not entitled to a defense in the underlying lawsuit or indemnification against settlement, award, or judgment therefrom.On April 14, 2023, Whaley filed a third-party complaint against National Trust and Continental Insurance Company ("Continental") in the state-court action. The third-party complaint alleged claims of breach of contract and bad-faith refusal to pay against National Trust and Continental. On May 4, 2023, National Trust filed a motion to dismiss in the state-court action. In the motion, National Trust asked the circuit court "to reconsider its previous Order … dated April 21, 2023, granting Whaley's motion for leave to file a third-party complaint against [National Trust] and further move[d] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss both of Whaley's claims asserted against [National Trust] in the Third-Party Complaint." In its motion, National Trust asserted that Whaley's claims against it were due to be dismissed "because they were compulsory counterclaims that Whaley was required to file in the federal[-court] action pursuant to § 65-440, Ala. Code 1975." On June 7, 2023, the circuit court entered an order denying National Trust's motion to dismiss the third-party complaint. National Trust subsequently filed a petition for a writ of mandamus asking this Court to direct the circuit court to enter an order dismissing National Trust from the state-court action.The Supreme Court of Alabama granted National Trust's mandamus petition in part and issued a writ directing the circuit court to enter an order dismissing Whaley's breach-of-contract and bad-faith claims in the state-court action that were based on National Trust's refusal to indemnify Whaley for the amount it had paid to settle Lockheed Martin's indemnity claim against it. However, the court denied the petition as to Whaley's contingent claims for a defense and indemnification. View "Ex parte National Trust Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Latigo Oil & Gas, Inc., an Oklahoma corporation, filed a lawsuit against BP America Production Company, a Delaware corporation, to enforce its preferential right to purchase certain mineral interests that BP had offered for sale as part of a package deal to a third party. Prior to trial, Latigo requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief to prevent BP from selling the interests to the third-party buyer pending trial. The trial court granted Latigo's request for preliminary injunctive relief.The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the evidence did not show Latigo was likely to succeed on the merits. The court held that BP did not owe Latigo a duty to provide a good-faith allocation of value to the interests burdened by Latigo's preferential right. It found that whether the allocations provided by BP were inflated as alleged by Latigo was irrelevant, as the notices provided by BP met the terms of the operating agreements.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma granted certiorari and held that the trial court's grant of injunctive relief was not an abuse of discretion. The court noted that while there was no binding precedent on whether an allocation of value within a package deal must be made in good faith, substantial support for Latigo's position could be found in both Oklahoma precedent and in other jurisdictions. The court affirmed the trial court's decision to grant preliminary injunctive relief and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "LATIGO OIL & GAS v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION CO." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around an accident where the plaintiff, Daniel Bennett, was injured when his vehicle abruptly stopped after driving over a downed telecommunications line owned by Cox Communications of Louisiana (“Cox”). Bennett filed a lawsuit against several defendants, including Cox and Cable Man, Inc., a company contracted by Cox to maintain the line. Bennett alleged that both Cox and Cable Man were negligent in their handling of the line and their failure to properly train their employees.Cox, in response, invoked an indemnification agreement under their contract with Cable Man, requiring Cable Man to indemnify and defend Cox against any claims related to Cable Man's work. Cable Man refused the tender and filed an Exception of Prematurity, arguing that without a finding of liability or a judgment, the claim for indemnity was premature. The trial court denied the exception, but the Court of Appeal, First Circuit, reversed the trial court's ruling, finding Cox’s claim for indemnity to be premature.The Supreme Court of Louisiana, however, reversed the Court of Appeal's decision. The court held that a claim for indemnity raised during the pendency of the litigation and before a finding of liability is not premature. The court reasoned that this finding aligns with principles of judicial economy and efficiency, and the relevant Code of Civil Procedure articles pertaining to third party practice. The court clarified that while the right to collect on an indemnity agreement is determined upon judgment or finding of liability or loss, there is no prohibition on asserting a claim for indemnity in the same proceeding. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bennett v. Demco Energy Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Missoula County and the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) over the reimbursement rate for housing DOC inmates in county detention centers. The County and the DOC had entered into a contract in 2015, setting a reimbursement rate of $88.73 per day for each inmate. However, in 2015, the Montana Legislature capped the reimbursement rate at $69 per day. The County filed a lawsuit in 2020, alleging breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and unjust enrichment.The District Court granted summary judgment to the DOC, concluding that the County's contract claims were time-barred by a one-year statute of limitations. It also found that the County's tort claim for breach of the covenant of good faith was not supported by a special relationship and that the County could not recover under a theory of unjust enrichment.The Supreme Court of Montana affirmed the District Court's decision. It held that the one-year statute of limitations applied to the County's contract claims, rejecting the County's argument that an eight-year limitation period should apply. The court also agreed with the lower court that the County's tort claim for breach of the covenant of good faith was not supported by a special relationship. Finally, the court concluded that the County could not recover under a theory of unjust enrichment, as the County had not demonstrated that the DOC had reaped an inequitable gain. View "Missoula County v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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KOKO Development, LLC, a real estate developer, contracted with Phillips & Jordan, Inc., DW Excavating, Inc., and Thomas Dean & Hoskins, Inc. (TD&H) to develop a 180-acre tract of land in North Dakota. However, the project faced numerous issues, leading KOKO to sue the defendants for breach of contract and negligence. KOKO did not disclose any expert witnesses before the trial, leading the district court to rule that none of its witnesses could give expert testimony. Consequently, the district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that without expert witnesses, KOKO could not establish its claims.The district court's decision was based on the complexity of the issues involved in the case, which required expert testimony. The court found that KOKO's negligence and breach of contract claims required complex infrastructure and engineering analysis, which was beyond the common knowledge or lay comprehension. KOKO appealed the decision, arguing that the district court erred in finding that it did not properly disclose witnesses providing expert testimony and that expert testimony was necessary for the case.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that KOKO did not identify the witnesses that would provide expert testimony and did not meet the requirements of Rule 26(a)(2). The court also agreed with the district court that the negligence and breach of contract claims required expert testimony due to the complexity of the issues in the case. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the three witnesses' expert testimony and requiring expert testimony for the negligence and breach of contract claims. View "KOKO Development, LLC v. Phillips & Jordan, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves an insurance claim filed by Christine and Roy Cosme after their insurer, Erie Insurance Exchange, cancelled their automobile insurance policy. The policy listed their son, Broyce Cosme, as a driver. The cancellation was due to a misunderstanding between Broyce and the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which led to the suspension of Broyce's license. The Cosmes were informed that their policy would be cancelled unless they submitted a coverage-exclusion form removing Broyce from the policy. However, due to conflicting advice from their insurance agent at Churilla Insurance, the Cosmes did not submit the form before the deadline. The policy was cancelled, and shortly after, the Cosmes were involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist. Erie denied their claim, stating that their policy was no longer in effect at the time of the accident.The trial court granted a directed verdict in favor of Erie and Churilla, reasoning that the Cosmes brought about their own lack-of-coverage injuries when they failed to sign the exclusion form before the deadline. The court of appeals affirmed this decision, holding that the Cosmes failed to present sufficient evidence to support their claims against Erie and Churilla.The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court's directed verdict for Erie, affirming as to Churilla, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that at the directed-verdict stage, the court can review whether inferences from the evidence are reasonable, but it cannot weigh conflicting evidence or assess witness credibility. Applying this standard, the court found that the trial court erred in directing the verdict for Erie as the Cosmes’ case-in-chief presented sufficient (though conflicting) evidence to prove Erie breached its contract and violated its duty of good faith. However, the court correctly granted judgment to Churilla because the evidence showed Churilla owed no special duty to the Cosmes to procure insurance or advise on the insurance policy. View "Cosme v. Warfield" on Justia Law

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The case involves John Doe, a student who was expelled from Loyola University Chicago after the university concluded that he had engaged in non-consensual sexual activity with Jane Roe, another student. Doe sued the university under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and Illinois contract law, alleging that the university discriminates against men.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of Loyola. Doe appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The appellate court, however, raised questions about the use of pseudonyms by the parties and the mootness of the case, given that Doe had already graduated from another university and the usual remedy of readmission was not applicable.The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the district court to address these issues. The court questioned whether compensatory damages were an option for Doe, and if not, the case may not be justiciable. The court also questioned the use of pseudonyms, stating that while anonymity may be common in Title IX suits, it must be justified in each case. The court noted that the public has a right to know who is using their courts and that a desire to keep embarrassing information secret does not justify anonymity. The court also raised concerns about whether revealing Doe's identity would indirectly reveal Roe's identity. The court concluded that these issues should be addressed by the district court. View "Doe v. Loyola University Chicago" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over oil and gas interests between Spottie, Inc., a Nevada corporation, and several other Nevada corporations and a limited liability company. Spottie alleged that the defendants had wrongfully claimed title to these interests, which were once owned by Edward Davis, who had formed Spottie as a holding company. The defendants countered that they had entered into an agreement with Davis to acquire these interests, and that Davis and Spottie had transferred the disputed interests to one of the defendants via an assignment in 2016.The district court dismissed several of Spottie's claims, leaving only a quiet title claim and a claim for unjust enrichment. After a three-day bench trial, the court ruled in favor of the defendants, finding that the assignment from Davis and Spottie to one of the defendants was valid. The court also found that Spottie had erroneously received revenue from the disputed interests and awarded damages to the defendants.Spottie appealed the decision, arguing that the district court had erred in its ownership determination, its rejection of Spottie's laches defense, its binding of a non-party to the judgment, and its award of attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed in part, concluding that the district court did not err in its ownership determination and its award of attorney fees. However, it reversed in part, finding that the court had erred in awarding costs for non-legal expenses. The case was remanded for the court to recalculate its cost award and to consider the defendants' request for additional attorney fees and legal costs. View "SPOTTIE v. BAIUL-FARINA" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over the ownership of a purebred show dog named Oscar. The parties involved are Oscar's breeder, Elizabeth "Betsy" Shauck, and Dave Jennings and Emily McLeod, who have raised Oscar since he was a puppy. Dave and Emily filed a petition to quiet title to Oscar against Betsy, who counterclaimed for breach of contract, replevin, conversion, for a restraining order and preliminary injunction, and to quiet title. Betsy's preliminary injunction counterclaim asked the district court to prevent Dave and Emily from harboring Oscar and to order his immediate return to her.The district court held a three-day hearing, which was supposed to be on Betsy's request for a preliminary injunction. However, the court expanded the scope of the hearing and made findings of fact and conclusions of law on the merits of all issues pending in the underlying lawsuit, including Oscar's ownership, contract disputes, and damages. Dave and Emily appealed this decision, arguing that the district court denied their due process rights by deciding the case on the merits when it had only set the hearing on Betsy's preliminary injunction.The Kansas Court of Appeals panel held that the district court violated Dave and Emily's due process rights by expanding the scope of the hearing without notice. However, instead of remanding the case, the panel analyzed the parties' ownership interests in Oscar and held that Dave and Betsy co-owned Oscar. Betsy then petitioned the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas for review.The Supreme Court of the State of Kansas affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the panel. The court agreed with the panel that the district court erred by expanding the scope of the hearing on Betsy's request for a preliminary injunction. The court found that the district court's decision to consolidate the hearing on Betsy's request for a preliminary injunction with a trial on the case's merits without informing the parties was a denial of due process and an error of law. The court also agreed with the panel's conclusion that the district court's failure prejudiced Dave and Emily. However, the court held that the panel erred by addressing the case's merits after correctly concluding that the district court erred. The court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Jennings v. Shauck" on Justia Law

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HotChalk, LLC filed a lawsuit against the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and 22 other defendants, alleging breach of contract and fraud in relation to the closure of Concordia University - Portland. HotChalk claimed that the Synod orchestrated the university’s closure to financially benefit itself and its affiliates while leaving the university’s creditors out in the cold. During discovery, the Synod sought a protective order to prevent the disclosure of certain documents related to internal religious matters. The trial court granted the protective order, effectively denying a motion to compel discovery of those documents. HotChalk then filed a petition for mandamus.The trial court's decision to grant the protective order was based on an in-camera review of the documents in question. The court equated the Synod's motion to a motion to restrict discovery to protect a party from embarrassment. After completing its final in-camera review, the trial court granted the Synod's motion for a protective order. HotChalk then filed a timely petition for mandamus in the Supreme Court of the State of Oregon.The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon issued an alternative writ of mandamus, directing the trial court to either vacate its order or show cause why it should not do so. The trial court declined to vacate its order, leading to arguments in the Supreme Court. The Synod argued that the writ should be dismissed because HotChalk has a plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law. The Supreme Court agreed with the Synod, stating that HotChalk had not established that the normal appellate process would not constitute a plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in this case. Therefore, the Supreme Court dismissed the alternative writ as improvidently allowed. View "Hotchalk, Inc. v. Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod" on Justia Law