Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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In a dispute over the applicability of a forum selection clause contained in a franchise agreement, the Fifth Circuit held that non-signatories to a franchise agreement may be bound to the contract’s choice of forum provision under the equitable doctrine that binds non-signatories who are “closely related” to the contract. View "Franlink v. BACE Services" on Justia Law

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During the covid-19 pandemic, state and local authorities in Louisiana ordered nonessential businesses to close for a time. This required Plaintiff to temporarily shut his jewelry stores and event spaces in New Orleans. To recoup income lost during the closure, Plaintiff claimed reimbursement under his insurance policy’s coverage for “direct physical loss of or damage to” his property. Plaintiff’s insurer, Axis, denied the claim.   Plaintiff sued Axis along with his insurance agent and broker. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims, concluding that Plaintiff suffered no covered loss or damages and that his agent and broker violated no duty to advise Plaintiff about pandemic-related coverage.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that what denied Plaintiff use of his property was the government’s closure orders. Such losses do not involve a “tangible alteration to, injury to, or deprivation of property.” The district court therefore correctly dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against Axis. Further, contrary to Plaintiff’s arguments, what creates a Louisiana insurance agent’s duty to procure particular coverage is not a “close relationship” with the insured but an insured’s “specific” request for “the type of insurance coverage . . . needed.” Here, Plaintiff did not allege he specifically requested pandemic-related coverage from either the wholesale broker or insurance agent, therefore Plaintiff’s claims against those Defendants were properly dismissed. View "Adler & Sons v. Axis Surplus Ins Co" on Justia Law

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Pontchartrain Partners, L.L.C. (“Pontchartrain”) and Tierra De Los Lagos, L.L.C. d/b/a Bee Sand Company (“Bee Sand”) are construction companies involved in a breach-of-contract dispute. In June 2021, Bee Sand sued Pontchartrain in Texas state court. Pontchartrain removed the case to federal court in July. Later that month, Bee Sand voluntarily dismissed the case and explained to Pontchartrain that it intended to refile in September— after a new Texas law governing attorney’s fees went into effect. Bee Sand also offered to refile in federal court to spare Pontchartrain the expense of a second removal, and Pontchartrain said that it would consider the matter. In response to Pontchartrain’s declaratory judgment action, Bee Sand argued that it was anticipatory in nature, meaning that the Southern District of Texas is the proper forum for this dispute. The district court agreed and dismissed the case.The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court’s consideration of the abstention factors provided adequate justification for granting Bee Sand’s motion. Moreover, these same reasons more than satisfy the “compelling circumstances” needed to obviate the “first-to-file” rule’s application, so the district court was not obligated to hear this case under that rule. Accordingly, the district did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Pontchartrain’s anticipatory lawsuit, and Pontchartrain’s jurisdictional and venue arguments need not be considered. View "Pontchartrain v. Tierra de Los Lagos" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff signed a Financial Responsibility Agreement (“FRA”) with Baylor University to secure her enrollment for the Spring 2020 semester. The FRA required Plaintiff to pay Baylor for “educational services,” and she paid her tuition bill in full. During the second half of the semester, Baylor responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by severely limiting on-campus activities and opportunities while conducting classes remotely. It did not, however, refund any tuition or fees. Plaintiff filed a class action against Baylor asserting a breach of contract claim, alternatively sought unjust enrichment.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded. The court explained that the FRA is a valid contract because it describes the essential terms with a reasonable degree of certainty and definiteness. Plaintiff failed to state a claim for contract invalidity. But the crux of the parties’ dispute remains the interpretation of “educational services”. The court explained that on remand, the district court must consider whether Baylor’s or Plaintiff’s interpretation of “educational services” prevails. If the term is latently ambiguous, then further proceedings may be necessary to explore its meaning. Also on remand, the court must examine the surrounding circumstances pertinent to the making of the FRA. View "King v. Baylor University" on Justia Law

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Harrison Co., L.L.C. executed a credit agreement with A-Z Wholesalers, Inc. to supply A-Z with tobacco products and other goods. Barkat Ali personally guaranteed A-Z’s payment. A-Z fell behind $2.6 million on payments for the goods it received, so Harrison sued for breach of contract and breach of guaranty actions against A-Z and Ali. The district court granted summary judgment for Harrison.A-Z and Ali argue there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the sales that Harrison is seeking payment for were, in reality, sales from Imperial following the merger of the two companies. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that Imperial and Harrison are—and always have been—separate entities with their own employees, customers, and warehouses. As the district court explained, A-Z and Ali do not allege, let alone present evidence, “that A-Z experienced any changes in ordering procedures, pricing, delivery schedules, type or brand of goods, inventory availability, or any other indicia that . . . [shows] it was no longer doing business with Harrison.” Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment. View "Harrison Company v. A-Z Whsle" on Justia Law

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CAE Integrated L.L.C. and Capital Asset Exchange and Trading, L.L.C. (collectively CAE) sued its former employee and his current employer, Moov, for misappropriation of trade secrets and then moved for a preliminary injunction. The district court denied the preliminary injunction and CAE appealed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial finding that CAE failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits of its claims. The court considered that trade secret information derives independent economic value from being not generally known or readily ascertainable through proper means. What CAE refers to as the “transactional documents” are files from Google Drive with purchase orders, invoices, customer equipment needs, and pricing history. The former employee has not had access to his MacBook since 2016 and he testified that Google Drive contained none of the transactional documents when he started at Moov. The district court found the employee’s testimony credible and the forensic analysis confirmed that before the employee began at Moov, he deleted any remaining transactional documents from his Google Drive. Therefore, the district court did not clearly err in finding that neither the employee nor Moov misappropriated trade secrets. Further, even if CAE had established that the employee or Moov misappropriated trade secrets, it failed to show the use or potential use of trade secrets. View "CAE Integrated v. Moov Technologies" on Justia Law

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GenMa is a power company that, long ago, leased two coal-fired power plants from the Lessors. To comply with those leases, GenMa paid NFC $130 million to insure the Lessors up to that sum if GenMa didn’t pay rent. Too late, NFC realized it had promised the Lessors more than $130 million. The Lessors forced NFC to honor its promise, and NFC sued GenMa and others for its losses.   GenMa removed NFC’s claims to district court, which then transferred those claims to a bankruptcy court in Texas. After losing there and at the district court, NFC appealed. It says that its claims against GenMa should return to New York state court because the federal court lacked jurisdiction or because federal law required abstention. NFC also insists, pressing four contract-law theories, that GenMa must cover NFC’s losses.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding that the district court had jurisdiction; abstention was not required; and NFC’s claims lack merit.  The court explained that the parties may have miscalculated the amount of credit support needed to satisfy GenMa’s lease obligations. But that mistake, mutual or not, was GenMa’s problem. Had Natixis carefully crafted its letters of credit, NFC would not have had to pay any more to the Lessors than GenMa had paid it, no matter how badly the parties miscalculated the credit support that GenMa’s leases required. The court agreed with GenMa: “NFC cannot demand more money from GenMa for discovering that it could have obtained less credit support” than the Agreement required, and reformation cannot erase that unforced blunder. View "Natixis Funding v. GenOn Mid-Atl" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”) sought to end its operations in Palestine, Texas but has been unable to do so because of a 1954 Agreement between its predecessor and Defendants City of Palestine (“Palestine”) and Anderson County, Texas (“Anderson County”) has prevented it from leaving.   Union Pacific filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted, holding that the 1954 Agreement was expressly and impliedly preempted. After the district court entered judgment, Palestine and Anderson County filed suit in Texas state court seeking to enforce the 1955 Judgment which had approved the 1954 Agreement.   Defendants appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Union Pacific and the denials of their motion to dismiss for failure to join a necessary party, motion for judgment on the pleadings, and cross-motion for summary judgment.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment for Union Pacific after determining that federal law preempts the statutorily mandated contractual agreements between the parties, both expressly and as applied. The court explained that there is no requirement for contemporaneous movement of property related to the rails for the regulation to be preempted. If the facilities or services—in any non-incidental way—relate to the movement of property by rail, they are preempted by the ICCTA.  Further, the court held that the district court properly determined that the Anti-Injunction Act does not bar Union Pacific from seeking declaratory relief. View "Union Pac. RR v. City of Palestine" on Justia Law

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Fountain of praise, a church, leased space to Central Care Integrated Health Services. Shortly after the execution of the lease, the relationship soured when the parties disagreed on the frequency and amount of rent payments. Eventually, Fountain of Praise terminated the lease and successfully evicted Central Care from the premises.Subsequently, Central Care filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. Central Care then sued Fountain of Praise in state court, claiming breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Fountain of Praise then removed the case to bankruptcy court as an adversary proceeding. The bankruptcy court entered judgment in favor of Fountain of Praise, finding that any breach was excusable due to Central Care's failure to make timely rent payments and that Central Care lacked the requisite interest in the property for an unjust enrichment claim.Central Care appealed, and the district court judge assigned to the case reassigned the case to a magistrate judge who affirmed the bankruptcy court's judgment.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit vacated the magistrate judge's order, finding that the district court improperly authorized referral of the appeal from a bankruptcy court decision to a magistrate judge. Under 28 U.S.C. Section 158, appeals from a bankruptcy court must be heard either by the district court or a panel of bankruptcy court judges. View "South Central v. Oak Baptist" on Justia Law

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Triller Inc., a social media company was being sold to a group of owners, including Carnegie Technologies, Inc. Prior to the sale, Triller executed a promissory note in favor of Carnegie and then immediately assigned the note to a group of “legacy” owners—including Carnegie—as part of the deal’s closing. After the note was defaulted, Carnegie sued Triller to collect the amounts due. Triller claimed that it had no obligations under the note because it had been assigned, resulting in novation. The district court rejected Triller's novation defense and Triller appealed.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that the plain meaning of the agreement was silent on the extinction of any obligation between Triller and Carnegie. The laws of both California and Texas require clear evidence illustrating the parties' intent to replace an earlier agreement, and the agreement's merger clause precludes evidence of a contemporaneous or earlier agreement. Thus, the court held that Triller failed to raise an issue of material fact regarding whether its obligations under the note were extinguished. View "Carnegie Technologies. v. Triller" on Justia Law