Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Commercial Law
Melendez v. Westlake Services, Inc.
Melendez purchased a used 2015 Toyota from Southgate under a retail installment sales contract. Southgate assigned the contract to Westlake. Weeks later, Melendez sent a notice alleging Southgate violated the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and demanded rescission, restitution, and an injunction. Melendez later sued Southgate and Westlake, alleging violations of the CLRA, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Civil Code 1632 (requiring translation of contracts negotiated primarily in Spanish), the unfair competition law, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Westlake assigned the contract back to Southgate. Default was entered against Southgate. Westlake agreed to pay $6,204.68 ($2,500 down payment and $3,704.68 Melendez paid in monthly payments). Melendez would have no further obligations under the contract.The parties agreed Melendez could seek attorney fees, costs, expenses, and prejudgment interest. Westlake was entitled to assert all available defenses, “including the defense that no fees at all should be awarded against it as a Holder” The FTC’s “holder rule” makes the holder of a consumer credit contract subject to all claims the debtor could assert against the seller of the goods or services but caps the debtor’s recovery from the holder to the amount paid by the debtor under the contract. The trial court awarded attorney fees ($115,987.50), prejudgment interest ($2,956.62), and costs ($14,295.63) jointly and severally against Westlake, Southgate, and other defendants. The court of appeal affirmed. The limitation does not preclude the recovery of attorney fees, costs, nonstatutory costs, or prejudgment interest. View "Melendez v. Westlake Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Rexing Quality Eggs v. Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc.
Rexing sought a ruling that Rexing was excused from its obligations to purchase eggs under its contract with Rembrandt. Rembrandt filed a counterclaim seeking damages for Rexing’s repudiation of the contract, attorneys’ fees, and interest. Following discovery, the district court granted Rembrandt summary judgment on liability but concluded that there were genuine issues of triable fact as to damages. A jury awarded Rembrandt $1,268,481 for losses on eggs it had resold and another $193,752 for losses on eggs that it was not able to resell. The court determined that the interest term in the parties’ agreement was usurious, so that Rembrandt was not entitled to contractual interest or attorneys’ fees.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the damages award. The district court properly concluded that the resale remedy under Iowa’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code, Iowa Code 554.2706, was the appropriate mechanism for calculating Rembrandt’s damages and Rexing waived its arguments challenging the award by not presenting them to the district court in a post-verdict motion. Reversing in part, the court held that the parties’ agreement fell within the “Business Credit Exception” to Iowa’s usury statute, Iowa Code 535.5(2)(a)(5), and remanded the denial of Rembrandt’s request for interest and fees. View "Rexing Quality Eggs v. Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Ctr. Partners, Ltd. v. Growth Head GP, LLC,
Plaintiffs are minority limited partners in Urban Shopping Centers, L.P., in which defendants acquired a majority interest in 2002. Plaintiffs allege breach of fiduciary and contractual duties, claiming that, pursuant to the operating agreement, defendants were not to compete with them in business opportunities. They alleged that defendants stopped growing plaintiffs’ business, disregarded partnership agreement terms, and stole plaintiffs’ opportunities. During discovery, plaintiffs moved to compel production of documents concerning business negotiations in which each defendant’s attorney discussed with nonclients liability and obligations as Urban’s general partner and use of a “synthetic partnership” to avoid partnership obligations. Defendants claimed privilege, but plaintiffs argued that, having disclosed legal advice on these subjects with each other outside of any confidential relationship, defendants could not later object that those subjects were privileged. The motion was granted; defendants refused to comply and were held in contempt. The appellate court affirmed. The supreme court reversed, holding that attorney-client privilege had not been waived because the sought-after disclosures had occurred in an extrajudicial context and were not thereafter used by the clients to gain a tactical advantage in litigation. The “subject-matter waiver” doctrine was not shown to be applicable.View "Ctr. Partners, Ltd. v. Growth Head GP, LLC, " on Justia Law
Companion Health Servs, v. Majors Mobility, Inc.
Companion was authorized to license space in Wal-Mart stores to companies that sell durable medical equipment and entered into licensing agreements with defendants. In 2007, defendants shut down operations. Companion sued. Problems arose during discovery, including defense counsel motions to withdraw, allegations of inadequate responses to discovery requests, objections to the scope of discovery, refusal to attend depositions, motions to compel, multiple extensions, and claims of obstruction. After three years, the district judge imposed a default as to all counts, based on discovery violations by the defendants. The court eventually lifted the default except as to Companion's veil piercing claim, allowing the substantive claims to go to trial. A jury found for Companion and awarded more than $1 million in damages. Defendants, personally liable as a result of the default, appealed. The First Circuit vacated the default and remanded, "because the district court imposed such a severe sanction based on a very limited slice of the relevant facts." View "Companion Health Servs, v. Majors Mobility, Inc." on Justia Law
Bennett & Deloney P.C. v. State
The State brought a consumer-protection action against Bennett & DeLoney, a Utah law firm, and the owners and principals thereof to redress and restrain alleged violations of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA). The thrust of the complaint alleged that Bennett & DeLoney violated the ADTPA by attempting to collect penalties on dishonored checks greater than those amounts permitted by Ark. Code Ann. 4-60-103. The circuit court (1) granted partial summary judgment for the State, finding that the collection of amounts in excess of those set forth in section 4-60-103 violated the ADTPA; and (2) found that section 4-60-103 provided an exclusive remedy for recovery on dishonored checks and that the use of remedies set forth in Ark. Code Ann. 4-2-701, relating to a seller's incidental damages, was not permitted. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed, holding that the ADTPA has no application to the practice of law by attorneys, and the circuit court erred in concluding otherwise. View "Bennett & Deloney P.C. v. State" on Justia Law
In re Foreclosure of Vogler Realty, Inc.
In this appeal the Supreme Court considered whether the clerk of superior court had the authority to determine the reasonableness of attorney's fees that a trustee-attorney in a foreclosure proceeding paid to himself in addition to his trustee's commission. The superior court affirmed the clerk's order. The court of appeals vacated the clerk's and trial court's orders, holding that the clerk lacked the statutory authority to determine the reasonableness of attorney's fees paid in a foreclosure proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals, holding (1) the clerk exceeded his statutory authority by reducing the trustee-attorney's attorney's fees, and (2) absent a viable challenge for breach of fiduciary duty from a creditor with standing, the trustee-attorney's payment of attorney's fees to himself in addition to a trustee's commission could not be upset. View "In re Foreclosure of Vogler Realty, Inc." on Justia Law
Smith v. Donald L. Mattia, Inc.
Plaintiffs, David and Barbara Smith, asserted various claims arising out of the construction of their home against Defendants, Donald L. Mattia, Inc. (DLM), Donald Mattia, and Barbara Joseph (Barbara). The Chancery Court (1) granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on (i) Plaintiffs' breach of contract claim and (ii) Plaintiffs' civil conspiracy claim; (2) denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment on (i) Plaintiffs' claim for misappropriation of Plaintiffs' backfill and money paid to DLM that was not applied to their project and (ii) Plaintiffs' claim that Defendants fraudulently induced Plaintiffs to purchase excess lumber and misappropriated $8,836 in connection with the purchase of excess lumber; (2) granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, as Defendants did not articulate a viable cause of action in their counterclaim; and (3) denied Barbara's motion for Chan. Ct. R. 11 sanctions where there was no evidence that Plaintiffs' attorney did not have a good faith belief in the legitimacy of the claims asserted against Barbara. View "Smith v. Donald L. Mattia, Inc." on Justia Law
Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters, LLC v. Switzer
Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters sued Douglas Switzer, an attorney, and his law firm, Hathaway & Switzer (Hathaway Switzer), for failure to pay for court reporting services. The district court entered judgment for Thomas & Thomas. At issue on appeal was whether Hathaway Switzer was liable to Thomas & Thomas for its fees or whether Hathaway Switzer's clients were. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the district court's judgment to the extent that it held Hathaway Switzer rather than Hathaway Switzer's clients liable, as Hathaway Switzer had not disclaimed liability for those fees; and (2) reversed the court's judgment to the extent that it held Switzer personally liable. Remanded with directions to dismiss Thomas & Thomas' claim against Switzer as an individual. View "Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters, LLC v. Switzer" on Justia Law
Hargis v. JLB Corp.
JLB Corporation, a mortgage brokering service, entered into an agreement with Bonnie Hargis to refinance her home. JLB then prepared Hargis's loan application and other financial disclosure documents. JLB alleged it played no role in drawing the note or deed of trust, which were prepared by third parties, and it did not charge for their preparation. Hargis, however, filed a three-count petition against JLB, alleging, inter alia, that JLB engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of JLB on all counts. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the grant of summary judgment to JLB as to the first two counts relating to the unauthorized practice of law where the record showed that JLB assisted Hargis only in preparing financial documents and did not show that JLB procured or assisted in the drawing of Hargis' note, deed of trust, or other legal documents; and (2) reversed the grant of summary judgment to JLB on the third count alleging unjust enrichment, as JLB's summary judgment motion failed to negate any element of Hargis' unjust enrichment claim. Remanded. View "Hargis v. JLB Corp." on Justia Law
Polsky v. Virnich
Court-appointed receiver Michael Polsky filed a complaint against defendants Daniel Virnich and Jack Moores, owners and officers of Communications Products, for breach of their fiduciary duties to the corporation after Communications Products defaulted on a loan to its largest creditor. The Supreme Court accepted review but split three to three. On return to the court of appeals, the judgment was reversed. Polsky filed a petition to review, which the Supreme Court granted. The Court then affirmed the court of appeals. The current action involved Polsky's motion to disqualify Justice Roggensack, asserting that because Justice Roggensack had not participated in the case when it was previously certified to the Court and when the Court's decision remanded the matter to the court of appeals, she should have been disqualified from participation in the decision to affirm the court of appeals. The Supreme Court denied Polsky's motion, holding (1) the Court does not have the power to remove a justice from participating in an individual proceeding, on a case-by-case basis, and (2) due process is provided by the decisions of the individual justices who participate in the cases presented to the court.