Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Audio Technica U.S., Inc. v. United States
Technica makes high-end audio equipment and claimed tax credits for increasing research activities under 26 U.S.C. 41 for several tax years. The R&D tax credit is available when taxpayers increase certain research expenses over time, with the increase measured in part against research costs from the five-year period from 1984-1988, taken as a percentage of the company’s gross receipts during those years (the fixed-base percentage). For the 2002–2005 and 2011 tax years, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency. Rather than litigate, Technica and the government reached settlement agreements, which were approved by the Tax Court. The settlements did not address the details but simply listed the dollar amounts of the agreed-upon deficiencies. According to Technica, these amounts were determined by a “specific agreement” as to the fixed-base percentage. With respect to the 2006–2010 tax years, Technica paid the amount requested by the IRS then sued for a refund, arguing that the government was judicially estopped from claiming that the .92% fixed-base percentage did not apply. The district court agreed, finding that because the government had entered into settlements for the other tax years using that same fixed-base percentage, it was judicially estopped from now arguing that the percentage was incorrect. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A court order memorializing a settlement agreement generally does not constitute judicial acceptance of the facts underpinning that agreement, and the orders approved by the Tax Court did not actually include the .92% rate. View "Audio Technica U.S., Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law
Cook v. Ohio National Life Insurance Co.
Cook sold variable annuities on behalf of Ohio National, under a contract between Ohio National and a broker-dealer, Triad. Ohio National paid commissions on the previously sold annuities to Triad, which in turn paid commissions to Cook pursuant to a separate agreement between Cook and Triad. After Ohio National terminated its agreement with Triad, Ohio National refused to pay further commissions on annuities sold during the term of the agreement. Cook sued Ohio National for breach of its agreement with Triad. Triad is not a party to the suit. Cook claimed that as a “third-party beneficiary” to the agreement between Ohio National and Triad, he had standing to bring suit. The district court found that, under Ohio law, Cook not an “intended” third-party beneficiary and could not maintain an alternative claim of unjust enrichment against Ohio National. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The plain language of the Selling Agreement makes it clear that plaintiff is not an intended third-party beneficiary under the Agreement. The Agreement unambiguously directs Ohio National to pay commissions to Triad; Cook is precluded from bringing an unjust enrichment claim against Ohio National. View "Cook v. Ohio National Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Buck v. Gordon
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services contracts out most of its fostering and adoption services to private child-placing agencies (CPAs), which perform home evaluations of prospective adoptive and foster parent(s). One CPA, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, shares the religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church regarding same-sex marriage. It “cannot provide a written recommendation ... endorsing a family situation that would conflict with [its] religious beliefs” so St. Vincent refers out home evaluations for same-sex or unmarried couples to other CPAs. In 2015, Michigan codified this practice. M.C.L. 722.124e(1)(g) provides that “[t]o the fullest extent permitted by state and federal law," a CPA shall not be required to provide any services if those services conflict with, or provide any services under circumstances that conflict with," the CPA’s "sincerely held religious beliefs.” The Dumonts alleged that they were a same-sex couple interested in fostering and adoption, but that St. Vincent refused to assist them with the licensing process because of their sexual orientation. Michigan settled that suit by agreeing to enforce, against CPAs, a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. St. Vincent then claimed that the state violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by directing it to perform its duties in a manner that violates its sincerely held religious beliefs. The district court denied the Dumonts’ motions, seeking intervention. The Sixth Circuit reversed with respect to permissive intervention. Citing FRCP 24(b)(3), the court held that the Dumonts’ motion was timely, that it presented a common question of law, and that there is little risk of undue delay or prejudice to the existing parties. View "Buck v. Gordon" on Justia Law
Everly v. Everly
In 1960, the Everly Brothers (Don and Phil) recorded, released, and copyrighted "Cathy’s Clown" and two other songs (the Compositions), granting the copyrights to Acuff-Rose. The original copyrights listed Phil and Don as authors; both received royalties. They were both credited as authors of Cathy’s Clown in 1961 and 1975 awards. They took joint credit for authoring the song in a 1972 television interview. In a 1980 “Release and Assignment,” Phil agreed to release to Don all of his rights to the Compositions, including “every claim of every nature by him as to the compositions of said songs.” Don subsequently received all royalty payments and public credit as the author; Acuff-Rose changed its business records to reflect Don as sole author. Licenses and credits for Cathy’s Clown and a 1988 copyright renewal listed Don as the only author. Both brothers nonetheless made public statements continuing to credit Phil as a co-author. In 2011, Don sought to execute his 17 U.S.C. 304(c) right to termination to regain copyright ownership from Acuff-Rose, claiming exclusive copyright ownership. Phil exercised termination rights as to other compositions, in 2007 and 2012, but never attempted to terminate any grant related to the 1960 Compositions. After Phil’s 2014 death, his children filed notices of termination as to the 1960 Grants, seeking to regain Phil’s rights to Cathy’s Clown. In 2016, they served a notice of termination as to Phil’s 1980 Assignment to Don. The district court granted Don summary judgment, finding that the claim of Phil’s co-authorship was barred by the statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding a genuine factual dispute as to whether Don expressly repudiated Phil’s co-authorship, and thus triggered the statute of limitations, no later than 2011. View "Everly v. Everly" on Justia Law
In re National Prescription Opiate Litigation
The counties filed suit in the Northern District of Ohio against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids. More than 2,700 other opioid cases have been transferred there by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL). The first Case Management Order put the Counties’ cases on “Track One,” with a March 2019 trial date, setting a deadline in April 2018 for the Counties to amend their complaints. The Counties then asserted claims against 12 Pharmacies as “distributors” of pharmaceuticals to their own retail pharmacies, expressly declining to bring "dispenser" claims. Distributors ship pharmaceuticals wholesale; dispensers fill prescriptions. The Track One parties engaged in massive discovery. Rather than ruling on summary judgment motions, the district court granted the Counties’ motion to sever all but one Pharmacy (Walgreens) from Track One. Trial had been rescheduled for October 2019. The 11 Pharmacies settled with the Counties, agreeing to pay $260 million. The district court canceled the trial, then allowed the Counties to amend their complaints to add “dispenser” claims and ordered discovery to proceed anew. The court refused to rule on dismissal motions and ordered the Pharmacies to produce data on every prescription that they had filled for any opioid medication, anywhere in the U.S., dating back to 2006. The Sixth Circuit ordered that the amendments to the complaints be stricken, noting that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply in MDL under 28 U.S.C. 1407 and had been disregarded in several instances. View "In re National Prescription Opiate Litigation" on Justia Law
Taylor v. Pilot Corp.
A “collective action” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), alleged that Pilot, a nationwide chain of travel centers, alleged overtime violations. Pilot asserted that the claims are covered by an arbitration agreement. The district court granted conditional certification to 5,145 current and former employees as opt-in Plaintiffs. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal from the denial of a motion to reconsider. Plaintiffs moved to compel the production of the opt-in Plaintiffs' employment dates. The parties reached a partial settlement, covering 1,209 opt-in Plaintiffs who had not signed an arbitration agreement. Pilot moved to compel the remaining Plaintiffs to arbitrate. Before the court ruled, Plaintiffs urged the court to grant its pending motion to produce employment dates, contending that several Plaintiffs were not employees on the date Pilot claimed they signed agreements. The court ordered Pilot to produce the dates. Pilot filed an unsuccessful motion to reconsider, arguing that whether Pilot must turn over those dates was a matter for arbitration. Pilot appealed. The district court, impeded in ruling on Pilot’s motion to compel arbitration because the employment dates had not been produced but unable to compel Pilot to produce the dates, denied, without prejudice, all outstanding motions. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The district court has not yet denied a petition under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 16(a)(1)(B) Until the threshold issue of contract formation is decided, there is no need to address the scope of the district court’s authority. View "Taylor v. Pilot Corp." on Justia Law
Boal v. DePuy Orthopaedics
Since 2010, the Northern District of Ohio has been the home of multidistrict litigation involving a DePuy medical device used in hip-replacement surgeries that, at its peak, contained more than 8,500 cases. In 2013, the defendants entered into a broad settlement agreement with U.S. resident plaintiffs. Foreign plaintiffs brought the 12 suits at issue. In 2012, they filed “short-form” complaints, each alleging that a plaintiff had been implanted with the DePuy device during hip surgery in Spain. The complaints did not identify the basis for subject-matter jurisdiction; the civil cover sheets listed diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332. The complaints alleged that the plaintiffs were Spanish residents and either Spanish or British citizens. The defendants never disputed diversity jurisdiction. In 2015, the defendants followed through on earlier notices by filing motions to dismiss based on forum non-conveniens. The court granted the motions, finding that Spain provided the better forum. The Sixth Circuit vacated. “After eight years the parties now concede that the district court lacked diversity jurisdiction all along.” If foreign citizens are on both sides of a dispute but a state citizen is on only one side, the fact pattern does not fit section 1332(a)(3) because citizens of different states do not fall on both sides. Section 1332(a)(2) does not apply because it requires “complete” diversity— only state citizens are on one side of the dispute and only foreign citizens are on the other. View "Boal v. DePuy Orthopaedics" on Justia Law
Nessel v. AmeriGas Partners. L.P.
Michigan filed suit, alleging that AmeriGas, Michigan's largest provider of residential propane, violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (MCPA). Section 10 of the MCPA, Mich. Comp. Laws 445.910, titled “class actions by attorney general,” 10 states that: The attorney general may bring a class action on behalf of persons residing in or injured in this state for the actual damages caused by any of the following: (a) A method, act or practice in trade or commerce defined as unlawful under section 3 [unfair, unconscionable, or deceptive methods, acts, or practices]. AmeriGas removed the case to federal court, citing the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 119 Stat. 4. The district court remanded to state court, finding that the lawsuit did not qualify as a “class action” because Section 10 “lacks the core requirements of typicality, commonality, adequacy, and numerosity that are necessary to certify a class under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 23.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Section 10 is not a state statute “similar” to Rule 23 for purposes of CAFA removability, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(1)(B). The court declined “to effectively invalidate the Michigan Legislature’s determination that an Attorney General should be able to sue for injuries to consumers pursuant to Section 10.” View "Nessel v. AmeriGas Partners. L.P." on Justia Law
Wellfount, Corp. v. Hennis Care Centre of Bolivar, Inc.
Wellfount, with its principal place of business in Indiana, contracted to provide services to Hennis nursing homes in Ohio. When the relationship soured, Wellfount sued Hennis in Indiana state court. Before Hennis filed a responsive pleading, Wellfount voluntarily dismissed its suit when Hennis questioned whether Indiana was a proper venue. The dismissal was without prejudice. Wellfount refiled in federal court. Hennis argued improper venue, based on a forum selection clause in the parties’ contract. Before Hennis filed a response, Wellfount moved for voluntary dismissal without prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). Wellfount indicated that it planned to refile in Ohio state court. Hennis moved to convert Wellfount’s motion into a self-effectuating notice of dismissal under Rule 41(a)(1). Hennis argued that no court order was necessary for Wellfount to dismiss its case because Hennis had yet to serve an answer or motion for summary judgment. Wellfount opposed Hennis’s motion; it sought a Rule 41(a)(2) court-ordered dismissal to avoid the claim-preclusive effect of Rule 41(a)(1)(B). The district court granted Wellfount’s motion, dismissing the case without prejudice. The Sixth Circuit affirmed; neither Rule 41(a)'s text nor the purpose of the Rule 41(a)(1)(B) two-dismissal clause indicate that a plaintiff is barred from seeking a court-ordered Rule 41(a)(2) dismissal if it is eligible to file a Rule 41(a)(1) notice of dismissal. The court rejected Hennis’s argument that allowing court-ordered dismissals at the earliest stages of a lawsuit will nullify the two-dismissal rule. View "Wellfount, Corp. v. Hennis Care Centre of Bolivar, Inc." on Justia Law
Adams v. Baker
Tennessee inmate Adams filed a pro se lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that Baker retaliated against him for his informal grievances about unfair workplace procedures in violation of his First Amendment rights. On January 17, 2018, the district court denied Adams’ request for a preliminary injunction. Adams filed this interlocutory appeal. The Sixth Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot. While Adams’ appeal was pending, he took his case to trial and won. On August 15, 2019, the district court entered a final judgment, making his appellate request for a preliminary injunction moot. The point of a preliminary injunction is to maintain “the status quo” until the resolution of the case “on its merits.” A final decision on the merits extinguishes a preliminary injunction. Even if the court agreed with Adams on the merits of his interlocutory appeal, it could not provide “effectual relief” because any preliminary injunction would immediately “dissolve.” View "Adams v. Baker" on Justia Law