Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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When the first Covid-19 cases appeared in Georgia, the governor declared a public state of emergency. Plaintiff’s restaurant played its part by suspending dine-in service. To recover the income, it was losing by closing its doors, Plaintiff quickly filed a claim with its insurer, Allied Insurance Company of America. Under Plaintiff’s “Premier Businessowners Property Coverage” policy, Allied agreed to “pay for direct physical loss of or damage to Covered Property” if it was “caused by or resulting from any Covered Cause of Loss.”   Allied denied coverage. It found that Plaintiff’s closure was not caused by any “direct physical loss or damage.” And under the policy’s Virus or Bacteria exclusion, Allied refused to “pay for loss or damage caused directly or indirectly” by any “virus.” The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim. It held that no “direct physical loss of or damage to” property occurred because the restaurant and its dining room “underwent no physical change.”   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding that the harm does not extend to the intangible harm caused by Covid-19 or by a declaration of public emergency issued in its wake. Plaintiff alleged no actual change to its property. Even if the court assumed that the governor’s Covid-19 order caused loss because it deprived the restaurant of the use of its property, that does not result in a win for Plainitff. Allied agreed to provide for only one manner of loss—the physical loss of Henry’s property and to be physical it must be “tangible or concrete.” View "Henry's Louisiana Grill, Inc., et al v. Allied Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law

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Corporacion AIC, SA (“AICSA”) and Hidroelectrica Santa Rita S.A. (“HSR”), signed a contract for the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in Guatemala. Under the contract, AICSA was responsible for creating a new power plant for HSR. However, AICSA had to discontinue the project because HSR issued a force majeure notice. HSR sought reimbursement for the advance payments it had made to AICSA and ultimately commenced arbitration proceedings.   AICSA sought dismissal of HSR’s claims, counterclaimed and sought to enjoin a subcontractor. A split, three-member arbitration panel denied AICSA’s request to join the subcontractor to the arbitration and ruled for HSR on the merits claims. The district court denied AICSA’s petition seeking to vacate the arbitral award on the basis that the arbitration panel had exceeded its powers. It said that Eleventh Circuit precedent foreclosed AICSA’s claim that a party to a New York Convention arbitration could challenge an arbitration panel’s decision on the exceeding powers ground.   The Eleventh Circuit noted that the Circuit is out of line with Supreme Court precedent, however, the court affirmed the district court’s determination. On appeal the relevant questions were whether: (1) an arbitration panel exceeded its powers in a non-domestic arbitration under the New York Convention?  And if so, (2) did the arbitration panel in this case indeed exceed its powers. The court held it was compelled to say, under Inversiones, that it may not vacate the arbitration award in this case on the exceeding powers ground. Consequently, the court could not the reach the merits of whether vacatur would be appropriate in the case. View "Corporacion AIC, SA v. Hidroelectrica Santa Rita S.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an Alabama granite processing business, worked with Defendant, a corporation that represents manufacturers in the sale of equipment used in the granite industry. Five years after the plant was completed, Plaintiff sued Defendant in Alabama state court, arguing, among other things, that Defendant breached its contract with Plaintiff. The district court granted summary judgment on the breach of contract claims. As to Defendant’s counterclaim, the district court determined Plaintiff had to pay the unpaid invoices and granted summary judgment on the counterclaim as well. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s orders   On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment finding that Plaintiff’s claim was time-barred. The court also affirmed the grant of summary judgment and denial of reconsideration as to Defendant’s counterclaim for unpaid invoices.     The court held that summary judgment is appropriate, because this is a contract for goods, and the UCC’s applicable four-year statute of limitations has passed. The court reasoned that Plaintiff has cited no record document or case to suggest that the contracting parties agreed to the markups as disguised service charges, and it seems more logical to conclude that a sale of equipment will include a margin of profit for the seller.   Further, the court held that Plaintiff’s argument on the statute of limitations defense is forfeited. The court reasoned that Plaintiff’s failure to raise the statute of limitations defense in its response to Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is not an “exceptional condition” that merits the court using its discretion. View "Wadley Crushed Stone Company, LLC v. Positive Step, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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Plaintiff, a childhood victim of lead poisoning, assigned his rights to more than $900,000 in structured settlement payments to factoring companies for pennies on the dollar. However, as a result of the lead poisoning, Plaintiff lacked the capacity to understand the six structured settlement transfer agreements he entered into with the factoring companies—agreements that contained allegedly false statements about Plaintiff’s need for immediate funds and failed to disclose his limited mental capacity. Florida state courts—after holding hearings where Plaintiff was not present or represented, approved the six agreements based on the factoring companies’ incomplete set of facts. Plaintiff sued Defendants-appellees Transamerica Annuity Service Corporation and Transamerica Life Insurance Company (collectively, “Transamerica”), the companies that issued and funded his periodic payments before he assigned them to the factoring companies.   The Eleventh Circuit deferred its decision in Plaintiff’s breach of contract of claim, certifying to the New York Court of Appeals to answer: whether a plaintiff sufficiently alleges a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing if he demonstrates that the defendant drastically undermined a fundamental objective of the parties’ contract, even when the underlying duty at issue was not explicitly referred to in the writing? View "Lujerio Cordero v. Transamerica Annuity Service Corporation, et al" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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Comegys, an independent insurance agency, had an independent contractor relationship with Safeco, a liability insurer. Comegys marketed Safeco insurance policies to the public. Comegys was allegedly negligent in procuring automobile insurance for one of its clients. Comegys had provided the client with an automobile insurance policy from Safeco, which the client eventually needed to rely on when he caused a car accident that ended in a motorcyclist’s death. Comegys offered to settle (and did settle through the errors and omissions policy it had with Endurance) the potential negligence claims the client had against it.   Relying on the indemnification provision between Safeco and Comegys, Endurance sued Safeco. Endurance wants to be indemnified by Safeco because the attorney Safeco provided to the client after the car accident pointed out the potential negligence claim the client had against Comegys.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s judgment finding in favor of Endurance’s claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The court held that Safeco was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court reasoned that under Florida law, “[i]ndemnity contracts are subject to the general rules of contractual construction . . . [and] must be construed on the [express] intentions of the parties.” Here, there is no breach because Endurance never carried its burden at trial of explaining how Safeco breached the indemnification provision of the Limited Agreement. Further, Endurance did not argue that there is any express term of the Limited Agreement (besides the indemnification provision, which requires breach of an independent contract provision) that has been violated. View "Endurance American Specialty Insurance Company v. Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois, et al." on Justia Law

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The dispute arose out of a contract between Purple Shovel and two companies Omnipol and Elmex Praha (“Elmex”), for the manufacture and delivery of AK-47 assault rifles. The U.S. Special Operations Command (“SOCOM”) entered into a contract (the “SOCOM contract”) with Purple Shovel to deliver the rifles for a set price. Together, the parties entered into a “Cooperation Agreement.”   Purple Shovel never paid Elmex and, in turn, Elmex failed to pay Omnipol. Plaintiffs brought an action against several individuals allegedly involved in the formation of the two contracts and asserted six claims against Defendants. The District Court dismissed the amended complaint on all counts and with respect to all Defendants.   On appeal, Plaintiffs challenged the district court’s substitution of the United States as a party in the place of the civilian employees. They also challenged the district court’s finding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the state law claims due to the bar of sovereign immunity.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s amended complaint. The court held that the district court was correct in concluding both that no additional discovery was needed on the scope-of-employment issue and that the United States had been properly substituted as Defendant. Further, the district court did not err in dismissing the claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Omnipol, A.S., et al. v. Christopher Worrell, et al." on Justia Law

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Gulfstream, a Georgia corporation, and Oceltip, an Australian company, entered a sales agreement (“Agreement”). Gulfstream terminated the Agreement after Oceltip failed to pay the full amount or cure a defect within the ten-day cure period.Oceltip submitted a demand for arbitration to the AAA, seeking a finding that Gulfstream had anticipatorily repudiated the Agreement and that this conduct suspended Oceltip’s duties, allowing Oceltip to recoup the money it had paid, and entitled Oceltip to damages. On appeal, Oceltip asserts that federal jurisdiction is lacking. It also argues that the district court erred in confirming the arbitration award and denying vacatur because, in Oceltip’s view, the Georgia Arbitration Code’s standards for vacatur—not the FAA’s—govern, and the arbitrators manifestly disregarded the law.First, the court found it has jurisdiction under Sec 203 of the FAA. Next, in resolving the disagreement the court analyzed whether arbitrators’ “manifest disregard of the law” supplies a basis for vacating the award. Under the Georgia Arbitration Code, it does, but federal law—the New York Convention and its implementing statute (Chapter 2 of the FAA)—sets forth seven exclusive grounds for vacatur, which does not include “manifest disregard of the law.” The court concluded that the Agreement’s choice-of-law provision does not supplant federal standards for confirmation or vacatur of an arbitral award, reasoning that the plain meaning of the contractual language does not support Oceltip’s position. Thus, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation v. Oceltip Aviation 1 PTY LTD" on Justia Law

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) sued Ocwen Financial Corporation (“Ocwen”) and several of its affiliates claiming some of the company's mortgage-servicing practices violated federal law. The CFPB’s suit was resolved by a settlement agreement that was memorialized in a formal consent judgment. The CFPB sued Ocwen a second time, alleging various consumer-protection law violations occurring between January 2014 and February 2017. The district court granted summary judgment to Ocwen on res judicata grounds, reasoning that the 2013 action barred the lawsuit.The CFPB contends that the 2013 action’s res judicata effect should be controlled by that case’s consent judgment, not its complaint and that the underlying settlement agreement shows that the parties didn’t intend to preclude a challenge to any conduct occurring from 2014 onwards. The court reasoned that determining the preclusive effect of a consent judgment requires applying contract law principles. The court found that the res judicata effects of an earlier lawsuit resolved by a consent judgment are measured by reference to the terms of the consent judgment, rather than the complaint. Thus, CFPB may sue Ocwen for alleged violations that occurred between January 2014 and February 2017, if the claims are not covered by the consent judgment’s servicing standard, monitoring, and enforcement regime. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Ocwen Financial Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

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While driving the co-plaintiffs car, the plaintiff negligently changed lanes and caused a collision, seriously injuring another driver. At the time of the incident at-fault car’s owner had a GEICO insurance policy that provided bodily-injury coverage up to $100,000 per person. The victim and Geico assert they made offers to settle, but the parties never agreed. After the conclusion of the victim's lawsuit, plaintiffs sued GEICO for bad faith, seeking to recover the amounts of the final judgments entered against them that exceeded the $100,000 policy limit. They contended that GEICO had breached its fiduciary duty to them by failing to settle the victim’s case within the policy limit. Plaintiffs challenge Cawthorn v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co 791 F. App’x 60, 65 (11th Cir. 2019), arguing that Florida law doesn’t require that a verdict precede an excess judgment as a prerequisite to proving the causation element of an insurer-bad-faith claim. The court reasoned that plaintiffs' available coverage and final judgments entered against them constituted excess judgments. Thus, plaintiffs could prove causation in their bad-faith case because they were subject to excess judgments. Finally, the court declined to follow Cawthorn because that court incorrectly analyzed Florida's bad-faith law and is unpersuasive. View "Erika L. McNamara v. Government Employees Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit granted Drummond's motion to amend this court's judgment and vacated its prior opinion, substituting it for this opinion. The court denied as moot Southern Coal's petition for rehearing en banc.In this appeal, the court affirmed the district court's judgment against Southern Coal in the amount of $6,860,000 plus $1,473,699.87 in prejudgment interest for a total of $8,333,699.87. The court concluded that the district court correctly found that Southern Coal was not excused from performing under the contract. Furthermore, the court concluded that the district court correctly found the price escalation clause unenforceable. However, the court reversed as to the issue of attorneys' fees, remanding to the district court to award a reasonable sum to the prevailing party, Drummond. View "Southern Coal Corp. v. Drummond Coal Sales, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts