Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Hetronic International v. Hetronic Germany GmbH, et al.
Hetronic International, Inc., a U.S. company, manufactured radio remote controls, the kind used to remotely operate heavy-duty construction equipment. Defendants, none of whom were U.S. citizens, distributed Hetronic’s products, mostly in Europe. After about a ten-year relationship, one of Defendants’ employees stumbled across an old research-and-development agreement between the parties. Embracing a “creative legal interpretation” of the agreement endorsed by Defendants’ lawyers, Defendants concluded that they owned the rights to Hetronic’s trademarks and other intellectual property. Defendants then began manufacturing their own products—identical to Hetronic’s—and selling them under the Hetronic brand, mostly in Europe. Hetronic terminated the parties’ distribution agreements, but that didn’t stop Defendants from making tens of millions of dollars selling their copycat products. Hetronic asserted numerous claims against Defendants, but the issue presented on appeal to the Tenth Circuit centered on its trademark claims under the Lanham Act. A jury awarded Hetronic over $100 million in damages, most of which related to Defendants’ trademark infringement. Then on Hetronic’s motion, the district court entered a worldwide injunction barring Defendants from selling their infringing products. Defendants ignored the injunction. In the district court and before the Tenth Circuit, Defendants focused on one defense in particular: Though they accepted that the Lanham Act could sometimes apply extraterritorially, they insisted the Act’s reach didn’t extend to their conduct, which generally involved foreign defendants making sales to foreign consumers. Reviewing this matter as one of first impression in the Tenth Circuit, and after considering the Supreme Court’s lone decision on the issue and persuasive authority from other circuits, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court properly applied the Lanham Act to Defendants’ conduct. But the Court narrowed the district court’s expansive injunction. Affirming in part, and reversing in part, the Court remanded the case for further consideration. View "Hetronic International v. Hetronic Germany GmbH, et al." on Justia Law
Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. v. AMN Healthcare, Inc.
In 2010, AMN Healthcare contracted with Aya Healthcare to provide travel nursing services to healthcare facilities. The contract prohibited Aya from soliciting AMN’s employees. In 2015, Aya began actively soliciting AMN’s travel nurse recruiters. AMN temporarily terminated Aya’s access to AMN’s platform. The parties ended their relationship. Aya filed suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, 2, including a “per se” claim and a quick-look/rule-of-reason claim and claims for attempted monopolization and monopolization, and state law tortious interference and other claims. Aya claimed that it suffered exclusionary damages as a result of AMN’s non-solicitation covenant and retaliatory damages as a result of AMN’s termination of the relationship.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of AMN. The non-solicitation agreement is an ancillary, rather than a naked restraint, because it is reasonably necessary to the parties’ procompetitive collaboration; it is not per se unlawful but is subject to the rule-of-reason standard. Aya failed to satisfy its initial burden under that standard because it did not establish a triable issue of fact with respect to whether AMN’s nonsolicitation agreement has a substantial anticompetitive effect that harms consumers in the relevant market. Aya’s claim for retaliatory damages failed because it did not present any evidence of a cartel or a concerted action in the termination of the agreement. View "Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. v. AMN Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law
Toddle Inn Franchising, LLC v. KPJ Associates LLC
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court judge confirming an arbitration award, holding that none of Appellant's legal theories for reversal were meritorious.KPJ Associates, LLC ran a daycare in Maine as a franchisee of Toddle Inn Franchising, LLC. When KPJ ended the franchise agreement on Friday and told Toddle it would open another daycare at the same site the following Monday Toddle filed a federal complaint alleging unfair competition under the federal Lanham Act and breach of contract and trade secret misappropriation under Maine law. Toddle then moved to compel arbitration and stay court proceedings. The judge compelled arbitration, and the arbitrator found for Toddle. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court judge (1) did not lack subject matter in this case because Toddle did not present a frivolous Lanham Act claim; (2) did not err in ruling that Toddle did not waive its right to arbitrate by its litigation conduct; and (3) did not err in awarding additional attorneys' fees and costs. View "Toddle Inn Franchising, LLC v. KPJ Associates LLC" on Justia Law
Gem State Roofing, Incorp. v. United Components, Inc.
Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, two Idaho businesses did roofing work under substantially similar names: one, Gem State Roofing, Inc., performed work primarily in Blaine County (Gem State-Blaine); the other was a corporation operating under the name Gem State Roofing and Asphalt Maintenance, which also did business as Gem State Roofing. The latter was based in Boise, Idaho, and performed work in a significantly larger area. In 2011, Gem State Roofing and Asphalt Maintenance was succeeded in interest by United Components, Inc. (UCI.) Notwithstanding its change of name, it continued to do business as Gem State Roofing. In 2005, prior to UCI’s name change, the two businesses with similar names entered into a Trademark Settlement Agreement (TSA), prohibiting UCI from advertising, soliciting, or performing business in Blaine County, with exceptions for certain services (i.e., warranty, maintenance work, or work performed for previous customers). In addition, UCI agreed that if it received a request for work it was contractually unable to fulfil because of the TSA, it would refer the work to Gem State-Blaine. In 2018, Gem State-Blaine sued UCI, alleging it had breached the TSA when it advertised, solicited, bid on, and performed roofing work in Blaine County, and had failed to refer requests for work as required under the TSA. After a bench trial, the district court concluded that, despite UCI’s breach of the TSA and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, Gem State-Blaine had failed to prove damages or that it was entitled to a permanent injunction. The district court further found that Gem State-Blaine had no protectable common-law trademark. Finally, the district court concluded that there was no prevailing party and declined to award attorney fees and costs. Gem State-Blaine timely appealed. UCI timely cross-appealed the district court’s denial of its request for attorney fees and costs. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed in part, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The district court’s refusal to enter a permanent injunction was reversed, and the court directed to enter a permanent injunction to enjoin UCI from any further breach of the TSA. The district court’s refusal to award attorney fees and costs as a sanction for UCI’s discovery violations, and the district court’s conclusion that Gem State-Blaine did not have a protectable common-law trademark against UCI were also reversed. The Supreme Court vacated the district court’s determination that neither party prevailed. The matter was remanded for the district court to determine whether there was a prevailing party, and to determine if attorney fees and costs should be awarded. The district court’s decision denying damages was affirmed. View "Gem State Roofing, Incorp. v. United Components, Inc." on Justia Law
Poller v. Okoboji Classic Cars, LLC
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court concluding that Plaintiffs were not entitled to relief on their contract claim and that Defendant was entitled to a verdict on its counterclaim for breach of contract, holding that judgment was improperly granted on Defendant's counterclaim.Plaintiffs, the owners of a 1931 Chevy, brought this lawsuit against Defendant, a company in the business of restoration of antique vehicles, arguing that Defendant violated certain provisions of the Motor Vehicle Service Trade Practices Act (MVSTPA), Iowa Code chapter 537B and breached its contract with Plaintiffs. Defendant filed a counterclaim alleging breach of contract. The district court concluded that there were no violations of the MVSTPA, that Plaintiffs were not entitled to relief on their contract claim, and that Defendant was entitled to damages on its counterclaim. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in favor of Defendant on the counterclaim, holding that Defendant violated several provisions of Iowa Code chapter 537B and therefore may not seek to enforce the terms of a contract that was unlawfully formed, but Plaintiffs did not establish actual damages arising from the alleged damages. View "Poller v. Okoboji Classic Cars, LLC" on Justia Law
Monteglongo v. Abrea
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals denying Defendants' motion to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA), Tex. Civ. Proc. & Rem. Code 27.001-.011, as untimely, holding that because Plaintiff's amended petition in this case asserted new legal claims, Defendants' motion to dismiss those claims was timely.In his original petition, Plaintiff asserted claims for deceptive trade practice, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation. Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended petition reasserting the same claims, adding new claims for fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, fraudulent concealment, and breach of contract, and alleging the same essential facts alleged in the original petition and requesting the same relief. The trial court denied Defendants' TCPA dismissal motion, concluding that the motion was untimely. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred in holding that Defendant's motion to dismiss the new claims was untimely because the amended petition asserted new legal actions and thus triggered new sixty-day period for Defendants to file a motion to dismiss those new claims. View "Monteglongo v. Abrea" on Justia Law
HouseCanary, Inc. v. Title Source, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court granting a motion to reconsider the court's denial of a motion to seal brought under Tex. R. Civ. P. 76a, holding that the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA), Tex. Civ. Proc. & Rem. Code 134A.006a, does not provide an independent, self-contained pathway for sealing court records.Plaintiff sued Defendant for breach of contract, and Defendant asserted counterclaims, including misappropriation of trade secrets. The jury found in favor of Defendant. Defendant subsequently filed a Rule 76a motion to seal thirty trial exhibits. The trial court denied the motion to seal but then granted Defendant's motion to reconsider that relied exclusively on section 134A.006a of TUTSA. The Supreme Court remanded this case to the trial court to exercise its discretion under the applicable provisions of both TUTSA and Rule 76a, holding that the trial court erred by failing to apply the non-displaced provisions of Rule 76a in ruling on the motion to reconsider. View "HouseCanary, Inc. v. Title Source, Inc." on Justia Law
Foodbuy, LLC v. Gregory Packaging, Inc.
GPI and Foodbuy were engaged in a non-exclusive commercial relationship, which was memorialized in a supplier agreement. Foodbuy subsequently filed suit against GPI alleging, among other claims, breach of contract for overcharging its Committed Customers. GPI counterclaimed, asserting, in relevant part, breach of contract for over-invoicing and violations of North Carolina's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA). The district court held that the Agreement's terms were unambiguous, and, under its plain language, required GPI to pay a volume allowance only for purchases made through Foodbuy's program (and thus at Foodbuy's price). In the alternative, the district court determined that should the Agreement's terms be found to be ambiguous, the same result would follow because the various methods of contract interpretation pointed to the same conclusion.The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that Foodbuy failed to show that it suffered any individualized harm as a result of GPI's alleged failure to sell its products to Committed Customers at the correct pre-determined prices under the Agreement. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Foodbuy's overcharging claim for lack of standing. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Foodbuy's motion in limine to exclude GPI's damages calculation, and in denying Foodbuy's request for leave to amend its answer to conform to the evidence. The court noted that the proper framework for resolving the breach of contract claim involves the tools for interpreting ambiguous contracts. In this case, the district court undertook that analysis in its alternative holding wherein it concluded that the parties' intent was to require GPI to pay a volume allowance on only those purchases made through the Foodbuy program at the negotiated price. Because Foodbuy failed to present any argument in its opening brief taking issue with this facet of the district court's alternative holding, even though the court found the Agreement to be ambiguous, Foodbuy has waived any challenge to the district court's judgment on that ground. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's interpretation of the Agreement. However, the district court wrongly denied GPI's cross-claim alleging violations of the UDTPA. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded on this issue. View "Foodbuy, LLC v. Gregory Packaging, Inc." on Justia Law
Aerotek v. Johnson Group Staffing Co.
Porter Scott, P.C. (hereafter, “Porter Scott”) defended The Johnson Group Staffing Company, Inc. (hereafter, “TJG” or “Johnson Group”) through two rounds of litigation with its chief competitor, Aerotek, Inc. (hereafter, “Aerotek”). Aerotek first sued TJG after TJG’s founder, Chris Johnson, left Aerotek to form TJG. In the lawsuit, Aerotek alleged that TJG and Johnson, among other things, misappropriated trade secrets by soliciting Aerotek’s customers. TJG and Johnson settled with Aerotek a little over a year later. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review concerned the ownership of fees awarded under Civil Code 3426.4, and whether the prevailing litigant (here, The Johnson Group Staffing Company, Inc.) or the prevailing litigant’s attorney (here, Porter Scott, P.C.) were entitled to the fees awarded to the “prevailing party.” The Court concluded that, absent an enforceable agreement to the contrary, these fees belonged to the attorney to the extent they exceeded the fees the litigant already paid. Furthermore, the Court concluded that, although the parties here entered into a fee agreement, that agreement did not alter the default disposition of fees in favor of the attorney. Because the trial court reached the same conclusion, the Court of Appeal affirmed its judgment. View "Aerotek v. Johnson Group Staffing Co." on Justia Law
TLS Management & Marketing Services, LLC v. Rodriguez-Toledo
The First Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to TLS Management and Marketing Services, LLC (TLS) on its breach of contract claims against Ricky Rodriguez-Toledo, ASG Accounting Solutions Group, Inc. (ASG), and Global Outsourcing Services, LLC (GOS) and the court's finding that Rodriguez and ASG were liable for misappropriation of trade secrets, holding that TLS failed to prove its trade secret claims, and the nondisclosure agreements were unenforceable.Rodriguez was the founder of ASG, a company that, like TLS, offered services in tax planning. ASG signed a subcontractor agreement with TLS that included a nondisclosure provision. Rodriguez later began working for TLS and signed a nondisclosure agreement. After his departure from TLS Rodriguez provided tax services in competition with TLS through ASG and GOS. TLS alleged that Rodriguez and ASG misappropriated TLS's trade secrets and that Rodriguez, ASG, and GOS breached their nondisclosure agreements. The district court granted summary judgment to TLS on the breach of contract claims. After a non-jury trial on the trade secret claims, the district court found in favor of TLS. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) TLS failed to satisfy its burden to prove the existence of trade secrets; and (2) the nondisclosure agreements were so broad as to be unenforceable. View "TLS Management & Marketing Services, LLC v. Rodriguez-Toledo" on Justia Law